Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No 'Pink Slime' In President Obama's White House Beef; First Lady Unlikely To Join Ban Campaign

First Lady didn't wade into school lunch controversies over white potatoes, or pizza qualifying as a vegetable, either...
The White House serves thousands of hamburgers annually at various events hosted by President Obama and First Lady Obama, including the Independence Day Barbecue and the Congressional Picnic. But the chefs do not use ground beef containing the cheap, ammonia-treated filler now popularly known as "Pink Slime," Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass told Obama Foodorama.

"We don't serve that here," Kass said on Monday at the White House, when asked about the high-profile controversy surrounding "Pink Slime" being allowed in the ground beef that is served in the National School Lunch Program.

The White House kitchen grinds its own beef, according to Kass. Thus there is no chance that "Pink Slime," which requires no labeling when it is in ground beef, is accidentally used.

Known in the meat industry as "lean, finely textured beef," the product is currently a public relations nightmare for its producer, Beef Products Inc., which, supported by the US Department of Agriculture, claims it is entirely safe. Members of Congress and hundreds of thousand of citizens, through a petition on Change.org, are now calling for USDA to ban ground beef containing the product from America's school cafeterias. But when asked if First Lady Michelle Obama, the nation's foremost healthy eating advocate, will speak out and join parents and schools in lobbying for a ban, Kass changed the subject. (Kass, above)

"Look at how beautiful this garden is," Kass said, and pointed to Mrs. Obama's South Lawn vegetable plot, where the First Lady was due to arrive any minute for a Spring planting party. He suggested discussing the subject with USDA.

Mrs. Obama last year declined to wade into school lunch controversies when Congress was legislating the unrestricted serving of white potatoes on cafeteria menus, and she also remained mum when lawmakers declared that pizza could qualify as a vegetable in the National School Lunch Program, which serves 32 million children. The First Lady was the most high-profile champion of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010, which improved the nutrition standards for the federal program.

The legislative centerpiece of the Let's Move! campaign, the measure does not ban the product from schools. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced that "lean, finely textured beef" is safe for children and all consumers to eat, but initiated a program beginning this Fall in which schools may opt out of purchasing ground beef containing the product. The program was due to a request from school districts across the nation, Vilsack said. But critics still say that is not good enough.

Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME) both separately called on Vilsack to ban the product from school meals, and to require labeling when it is added to ground beef. They have now been joined by more than forty Democratic House Members.

"It is wrong to feed children a slurry that was formerly only used for dog food," Pingree wrote to Vilsack in his letter calling for a ban.

Major fast food chains, including McDonald's, do not use the product. In recent weeks, following a media and social media firestorm, major grocery chains, including Safeway and Hy-Vee, have announced they will not sell ground beef containing the filler. On Monday, Beef Products Inc., announced the temporary closing of three of its four facilities. The company said it is suspending all operations at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa. Its headquarters in Sioux City, S.D., will remain open. Workers will be paid for 60 days as the company launches a public relations program designed to restore confidence in its product.

Though there's no "Pink Slime" in White House ground beef, the President could well have eaten it elsewhere, since burger runs--including with fellow world leaders, such as Russia's Dmitri Medvedev-- have become a regular part of his food adventures. Mrs. Obama has also been known to go on burger runs.

*In the photo at top, the President enjoys a cheeseburger as he dines outside the White House at DC's Scion restaurant, with the winners of the second "Dinner with Barack" contest.

*Kass photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; President Obama photo by Obama for America