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USDA To Give Schools More Ground Beef Choices After Outcry Over 'Pink Slime'

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has weighed in on the use of so-called "pink slime" in beef served in the government's free and reduced school lunch program.

Today the agency confirmed that it believes the beef product — known in the industry as "Lean Finely Textured Beef" — is safe. Nonetheless, it announced that due to "customer demand" it will give school food administrators that receive meat through the program the option to order beef without it in the next school year.

The de-fatted beef trimmings that are processed into what critics call "pink slime" also end up in much of the ground beef sold in grocery stores. But it's impossible for consumers to know that since USDA doesn't require meat companies to label whether ground beef includes trimmings.

USDA said today that all food purchased for the National School Lunch Program undergoes safety testing, including the Lean Finely Textured Beef. One way the industry says it kills harmful bacteria is by spraying ammonia gas on the meat long before it is served.

USDA's decision comes two months after McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell said they would stop using Lean Finely Textured Beef in their ground beef dishes. In the last few weeks, thousands pf people added their name to petitions asking the government stop buying this product.

One school food administrator, Ann Cooper in Boulder, Colo., says she's having trouble finding alternatives to Lean Finely Textured Beef from her suppliers in Denver. "It's become so ubiquitous," she says. Some estimate that up to 70 percent of ground meat in U.S. contains Lean Finely Textured Beef.

For more on USDA's decision, listen to All Things Considered and check back here for updates.

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