As city schools prepare to stop serving hamburgers with ‘pink slime’ in them, Stringer urges them to hurry up

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Scott Stringer and pink slime. (Dan Rosenblum)
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“This is what pink slime looks like,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said today, as he held up an especially unappetizing picture of a controversial meat additive. “Not only does it look disgusting, but it’s simply not healthy.”

Stringer, taking the local angle on a story that has gone viral nationally, urged the city Department of Education to stop buying beef for school lunches with a processed beef-helper he repeatedly referred to as “scraps from a slaughterhouse.”

Before this morning’s press conference, Stringer sent a letter to the D.O.E asked the department to speed up the process. He said he has yet to hear back.

“I recognize that it’s tough to simply get rid of this meat byproduct overnight, but the Department of Education has to tell us what the plan is to get rid of pink slime,” Stringer said. “They have to come to us with a timetable and make sure that parents understand there are better options for our kids.”

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A product of “advanced meat recovery,” the pink slime is the result of a process by which industrial producers liquefy fatty cuts of beef, put them in a centrifuge and reconstitute the protein remnants. Processors expose the beef to ammonia gas to kill strains of E. coli and salmonella. Much of the meat filler goes to grocery stores, fast food outlets and school lunches.

Reacting to safety (and aesthetic) concerns, the United States Department of Agriculture, which supplies school lunches, told schools they can opt out of buying the product beginning this fall. Stringer asked New York to follow school districts in Miami, Los Angeles and Memphis, which have already committed to eliminating ammonia-treated beef.

“Kids would say its gross, parents would say this is an outrage," Stringer said. "I would say this is not good public health policy.”

But because he said he didn’t know how much of the product, if any, is served in the schools, the call from Stringer seemed to be about urging transparency from the D.O.E as much as railing against the product itself.

“When you ask them this information by the time you get it, it’s months later," he said. "We’re hoping that by having this event today, and showing the strength of the different organizations and parents that have concerns about this, that they will respond to it.”

But Stringer, a frequent critic of the department, added he was not “chastising” or “being antagonistic” toward the department. In fact, in asking the department to comply with his request, Stringer’s letter gave the D.O.E. some wiggle room.

“If there are legitimate barriers to an immediate removal related to vendor contracts or other logistical concerns—and DOE can clearly articulate those concerns—then a more deliberate approach may be warranted,” it said.

Layla Law-Gisiko, education chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 5 and parent to two elementary school children, spoke to media afterward.

“They do eat school lunch,” she said of her children. “So they have their share of pink slime in their bodies.”

She said she was in denial before realizing the additive was actually served in schools. If cost was a factor, she recommended schould adopt an all-vegetarian diet.

“You can feed children without giving them high fat, high ammonia, high salt food,” Law-Gisiko said. “You don’t have to give them meat every day.”

D.O.E. spokeswoman Marge Feinberg issued the following response to the press conference: "We spoke to the USDA and urged them to change their policy, which we are gratified that they did by giving school districts the option to eliminate it. We are in the process of phasing this out and will eliminate it entirely in September."