Rarely does one event do both but we have been treated to that recently in the form of 'Soylent Pink', the pink slime recently making the news again. As we have gotten more inclined to asking for other taxpayers to give us more 'services' we risk becoming less able to do what we might want - freedom is lost when we abdicate it for that eponymous free lunch. If government gives us free health care, government can then demand we not smoke and not eat and not drink because it raises the price of health care if we get a disease. How do cultural mullahs know which lung cancer patient got smoking from cigarettes, since 50% of lung cancer instances are in people who never smoked? It's a miracle of science if they can figure that out.
And in a culture where it is becoming okay for a public school official to force a child to buy a school lunch, who determines that peanut butter and jelly is not nutritionally acceptable yet Tater Tots are? And if government is buying you that free lunch, and they want it to be meat derivatives laced with ammonia, you can't really complain. But should you?
If you read this site, you are likely more moderate than if you are a daily reader of most other science publications. So if I tell you that seven million pounds of ammonia-laced meat byproduct are being bought for schools, will you blame Big Business lobbying or do you think traces of ammonia are less harmful than E. coli? Do you worry that it is connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food or do you consider it like Chicken Nuggets, except made of beef?
Which side is pro-science?
Critics contend it is hypocritical for First Lady Michelle Obama to express concern with healthy eating for children when taxpayer money is buying pink slime. But even the term "pink slime" is emotional verbage, a silly hyperbole like Frankenfood and Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" that has nothing at all to do with science. It isn't listed as an ingredient because it isn't really an ingredient, it is actually pretty lean meat. There is no more ammonia in a hamburger than there is medical ingredients in homeopathic magic water.
Mmmm, lunch. Link: EducationNews.org
Do you want ammonia or E. coli?
This 'pink slime' has actually been around since the 1980s. It is meat that has been put in a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat. In the 1990s, during an E. coli scare, meat producers began using ammonia to kill pathogens. We didn't have E. coli outbreaks like they have had in Europe because there is a reasonable science solution and we use it.
Critics, including some scientists who used to work in the USDA, liken it to dog food, only more dangerous. Microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein worked for the Food Safety Inspection Service during the Bush administration and was the one who coined the term 'pink slime'. Well, that was the Dark Ages for science, when Republicans doubled funding for the NIH but science bloggers bleated intolerance because the president went to church. The Obama administration has increased money for school lunches - and purchases of this pink slime. Is the president who promised "to restore science to its rightful place" ignoring scientists? Well, yeah, usually, just like every other president always has, but his position is not anti-science this time.
Pink slime is not appetizing but few things in food processing are - do you really not know the hamburger you buy in a store has 'meat derivatives' like cow head and organs? It is also not dangerous, it is just meat that couldn't have been separated out using a knife. The USDA does not exist to pass judgment on the merits of food (well, not yet) it exists to determine safety. They plan to buy 7 million pounds of the stuff in the coming months for the national school lunch program because it is safe. Don't like it? Don't buy school lunches. But some school districts have taken to forcing children to buy school lunches if they determine a lunch from home is not nutritionally adequate.
Like pink slime is.
It's enough to make the most ardent progressive into a libertarian. Well, maybe not. But it is enough to make moderate people concerned that as we continue to demand that government manage more for us, 'it's for the kids" rationalization by large bureaucracies will get scarier.
Where you come down on this issue is largely a matter of personal taste. If you get your science from hysterics like Jamie Oliver, you aren't reading this site anyway. He, and sites like The Daily, bring this issue up again and again (The New York Times tried in 2009 and issued a retraction) because that's what people in scare journalism do. If I had my way, nothing my family eats would be anything except food grown, killed, cleaned and cooked by no hands but mine. But I am not worried about this being 15% of the meat in a school lunch my child eats.
Not only is the 'meat' safe, it's absolutely safer than organic beef unless you grew it and killed it yourself. The only thing that would make pink slime safer? Irradiating it. But that is an anti-science belief for another time.