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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Last week, we told you about a food product that the tractors call pink slime. It's a meat product made from leftover meat trimmings treated with ammonia and then added to hamburger. And one place you can find it is school cafeterias. Well, today the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will give school food administrators a choice, they can order ground beef free of pink slime.

NPR's Allison Aubrey explains the USDA's decision.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When the USDA released the statement this afternoon announcing that it will give schools the choice to order beef that does not contain lean beef trimmings, or so-called pink slime, it was in part a recognition that the voice of moms cannot be ignored; particularly ones like Bettina Siegel who blog and tweet. We reached her on her cell phone.

BETTINA SIEGEL: You know, I do think there are safety concerns. But then there's also just the issue of, like, people just want to know what they're eating.

AUBREY: Siegel is the creator of a blog called The Lunch Tray. And the little over a week ago, she wrote a post fuming about so-called pink slime. She pointed out that it's treated with ammonia, something she uses as a cleaning agent to kill off pathogens. And that does sound scary and gross. Well, clearly she touched a nerve. And when she went one step further, starting a petition to get beef trimmings out of school food, she quickly got about 225,000 signatures.

SIEGEL: I was afraid I'd get 50 signatures and be kind of embarrassed for starting it. So I couldn't be more shocked.

AUBREY: Now, Siegel is not the first to complain about lean beef trimmings. A former USDA microbiologist has raised questions about its safety and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has brought it up on his TV show. All of the outcry has left the meat industry asking where's the evidence that lean, finely-textured beef trimmings are harmful.

That's the issue Betsy Booren, of the American Meat Institute Foundation, says she wants to address.

DR. BETSY BOOREN: Well, first of all, the term pink slime is a slang term that's been used by media and other people to describe a process that produces really safe beef product.

AUBREY: Booren says the process of treating the beef trimmings with ammonia-based gas to kill to kill bacteria is safe.

BOOREN: It's actually a well-established processing intervention that has a long history of success; that's been approved by USDA.

AUBREY: And Booren says by using trimmings the industry has found a way to use the whole cow.

BOOREN: What we're doing here is we're being very efficient. We're being very sustainable because we're not letting anything go to waste.

AUBREY: The USDA says it continues to affirm the safety of lean beef trimmings or pink slime. But in making its announcement today, it will give schools a choice.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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