Home Please Read This Post Before You Retweet It: Mixing Fact and Fiction in Pink Slime Tweets

Please Read This Post Before You Retweet It: Mixing Fact and Fiction in Pink Slime Tweets

If you believe everything you read on the Internet, pink slime is a deadly meat additive and the best reason yet to go vegan.

But if you believe everything you read on the Internet, you’re not too bright.

The great pink slime scare of 2012 isn’t the first time the food additive has made headlines or been the central focus of inaccurate rumors. In fact, pink slime seems to filter into a wire service’s story fodder every few months. But this time, thanks in large part to Twitter and other social networks, the story doesn’t seem to want to go away. Nor does it want to let facts get in the way of a good story.

Pink Slime Can’t Kill You

In the interest of full disclosure, my girlfriend works at Whole Foods. But you don’t have to shop there to save your life. You don’t even have to avoid the 70% of ground beef sold in the U.S. that does contain pink slime, as the additive – as far as anyone knows – is safe.

Gross, and probably something most people will want to avoid after they understand what “lean, finely textured beef” is, but not deadly according to a slew of studies.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest told the Times the current scare was a “tempest in a teapot” and that ammonium hydroxide finds its way into several food products, including non-meat products.

The bigger concern about pink slime is that consumers are essentially paying for one thing and getting another, according to the scientist who coined the somewhat inaccurate term “pink slime.”

“You look through the regulations and a lot of that stuff was never approved for hamburger. It was under the radar,” Gerald Zirnstein, who coined the term in what he thought was a private email while working for the USDA, told Reuters. “It’s cheating. It’s economic fraud.”

Speaking of Whole Foods, They Never Have Sold Beef That Contains Pink Slime

On her Twitter profile, @PrettyVeggie claims she’s putting together a cooking show for PBS. Let’s hope PBS hires her some fact checkers, because either she’s not checking them herself or she’s not above making sure facts don’t get in the way of a social agenda.

Whole Foods has been releasing a steady stream of press releases and tweets ensuring customers that its quality standards don’t allow it to use fillers, including pink slime. Most meat is ground in its stores, the company said, and meat that is ground by third-party processors has to meet the company’s standards as well.

Some of the tweets have lumped Whole Foods in with other grocers like Safeway and Albertsons that recently stopped selling pink-slime-laced beef, which may be causing some of the confusion. For example, Nicole German, a registered dietician in Atlanta, tweeted, “Haha, now some grocery stores (like Costco, Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods) say they won’t sell pink slime” with a link, seemingly implying the practice of banning the sale of pink slime is a recent one.

The only problem is that the link leads to a Facebook status, which just notes that while supermarkets won’t sell pink-slime-laced meat, the USDA says it’s OK for school lunches.

Pink Slime Can Be Avoided Without Going Vegan

The Mother Jones blog post is quickly spreading on Twitter this morning. What’s getting less attention is a New York Times article that reports schools are already taking steps to remove meat containing pink slime from their cafeterias.

While it’s true that the USDA’s ban on pink slime only applies to meat products it buys, and that amounts to just 20% of the total sold in U.S. public school cafeterias, many school districts are moving to eliminate the product on their own. New York City public schools, for example, will stop serving it entirely by fall, and in Brighton, Massachusetts, the school district is not serving any ground beef until it can find a reliable source of pink-slime-free meat.

While there is some weight to the socio-economic side of the debate (meat containing pink slime is cheaper, so to avoid it, you need to pay more), there is a lot of fiction mixing in with fact on social networks. The best overview we found in researching this article is Discover’s blog post examining the good and bad reporting on the subject.

The bigger problem is that to avoid pink slime is essentially to avoid ammonia. As Discover notes, ammonia in food is “not especially worrisome.” That’s good news, as it makes its way into so many more foods that we consume than just ground beef. As reported by KJ Dell’Antonia, who writes the Motherlode blog for the New York Times, ammonia can be found in breads, pastries, cheeses, chocolates, breakfast cereals, sports drinks, fruits and vegetables.

“In other words,” Discover notes, ” if we’re going to worry about chemical processing, beef products need to stand in line.”

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