Feroleto Law, Buffalo NY

USDA revokes Beef Product exemption

According to the New York Times, Beef Products, Inc. is a South Dakota company that essentially uses beef products such fatty trimmings the industry once relegated to pet food and cooking oil, treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria, and puts them back into the market. The trimmings were particularly susceptible to contamination, but a study commissioned by the company showed that the ammonia process would kill E. coli as well as salmonella. Officials at the USDA endorsed the company’s ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli “to an undetectable level.” They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products. ” These trimmings were then sold and included in student lunches. They were also put in products used by fast food chains and grocery chains.

After the USDA was informed by the Times that government and industry testing showed that some of the lunches were contaminated with E. coli and salmonella, the exemtion was revoked. The Times report raises the issue as to whether the ammonia treatment is effective. Further, the Times reports that the Beef Products case reveals a schism between the main Department of Agriculture and its division that oversees the school lunch program, a divide that underscores the government’s faltering effort to make hamburger safe. Further, I believe it speak to the issue as to whether low quality trimmings that would not otherwise be included in food fed to school children should be used simply because it is treated with a chemical such as ammonia. School officials like the product because the Beef Product, Inc. meat is substantially lower in cost. The Times reports that it is a “mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips, [and] is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide….[and] it has remained little known outside industry and government circles. Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels.” I believe our school children deserve better and that such information should not be hidden from the general public. mmm…delicious……