Conventional grocers say no to 'pink slime'—how about GMOs?

Conventional grocers say no to 'pink slime'—how about GMOs?

One by one, conventional retail chains are discontinuing the sale of ammonia-treated meat following a public outcry about "pink slime" in school cafeterias. Can labeling GMOs, an equally important health issue to the natural products industry, ever gain this kind of momentum?

The "pink slime" backlash is oozing into the nation's biggest conventional retailers. Yesterday, Kroger Co. and Stop & Shop said they would no longer carry any beef that includes the ammonia-treated, leftover beef trimmings. The companies join Safeway, Supervalu (Albertsons) and Food Lion, which all announced their intent earlier this week.

The Internet news source The Daily sparked this most recent "pink slime" outcry, when it reported that 7 million pounds of the "lean, finely textured beef" would be available in school cafeterias this spring. The beef is spun to remove most of the fat, then compressed and exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill e. coli and salmonella. This mix is added to ground beef and hamburger patties.

But not all retailers carried the beef. Whole Foods Market, A&P and Costco say they never sold the product.

Last year, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution devoted a segment to "pink slime" which prompted McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell to discontinue use of the meat. Now, the nation's largest grocers are following suit. Even Walmart, while it didn't say it would stop selling the beef, said it would offer other beef that does not contain the filler.

Will consumers fear GMOs as much as 'pink slime?'

When the public outcry against "pink slime" started up again this March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responded by allowing school districts to opt out starting next school year.

Next school year? Conventional retailers are discontinuing the product, but it's still good enough to feed to our children? It's the outcry that's continuing to flood USDA, which since 2005 has limited the amount of "lean beef trimmings" in a serving of ground beef to 15 percent, but has never required its labeling, according to The Daily.

The fact that the "pink slime" controversy boiled over on The Daily, a news app available for iPad and Android, shows the power of non-traditional news outlets in effecting change in Americans' health. But media outlets can only do so much before the waiting game begins at a governmental level.

One clear problem with the beef is the lack of clear labeling, making it nearly impossible to tell if a meat product contains it. Sounds like a similar conundrum facing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

"Pink slime" is more tangible and certainly more disgusting to the public than GMOs, so it's no wonder that major retailers have responded so readily to consumers. Meanwhile, the Just Label It campaign has reached 990,000 signatures. That's a lot of consumers speaking out for GMO labeling, just like they did for "pink slime."

On March 27, the FDA is required to review the campaign's petition calling on the agency to label GMOs. Organizers are unsure how the FDA will react. While the natural industry is waiting for a decisive mandate for GMO labeling, taking a cue from the "pink slime" saga may be in order. The concept of "school cafeteria as petri dish" is a good place to start.

Do you think GMOs will become as unpopular as "pink slime?" Tell us in the comments.

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