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Cow Anus Topped with Ammonia: Everything You Eat Is Gross

Last updated on 2013.07.09

I love it when a guy named Bones tells me to eat the assorted remnants of cattle. South Dakota Ag Secretary Walt Bones has added his voice to the cries of South Dakota officialdom urging Americans to keep eating the recycled livestock leavings, also known as "pink slime" or "lean finely textured beef."

The State of South Dakota has also used our tax dollars to promote Eldon and Regina Roth's commercial product with this official fact sheet, which says pink slime progenitor Beef Products Inc. has never made anyone sick. This official South Dakota fact sheet/advertisement also suggests that the intense reprocessing of livestock leavings at BPI may indeed prevent the need to crowd thousands more water-guzzling, corn-demanding, richly pooping cattle into industrial feedlots.

I will grant that fretting over the actual chemical and tissue content of the many of the things we eat is a sure route to indigestion, if not starvation. I still like a good hot dog, and I will dwell in happy ignorance of the horrors that lead from "Oink!" to "Pass the ketchup!"

The South Dakota fact sheet gets the attention of the University of Michigan's Risk Science Blog, which focuses on the dreaded ammonia content of pink slime beef. UM's Andrew Maynard digs up a 1973 nutrition paper that lists the ammonia content of a whole bunch of common foods. The results—hold your nose:

Ammonia content, parts per million, in common foods, Based on Rudman al. (1973) Ammonia Content of Food. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 26, 487-490
Based on Rudman D. et al. (1973) Ammonia Content of Food. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 26, 487-490. Prepared by Andrew Maynard, Risk Science Blog, 2012.04.12

By the 1973 numbers, unless your diet consists entirely of bananas, cereal, celery, and grits, you're eating ammonia. Modern pink slime beef has about double the ammonia content of 1973 ground beef, but onions, mayo, ketchup, and lots of cheeses still out-ammonia BPI's recaptured beef waste.

If you really think about it, everything you eat is just a few chews away from becoming barf and poop (yeah, enjoy your breakfast). Astronauts drink recycled urine, and soon, if we keep pouring our water into fracking, so will we. If you want to critique pink slime as gross, you have to do more than shout, "Oh my God! Ammonia!" You need to prepare a much more thorough critique of industrial agribusiness. So pass the ammonia ketchup and mayo... and that old copy of The Unsettling of America.


  1. Troy Jones 2012.04.10

    Ammonia is essentially a natural disinfectant. A good thing. Alot better than the roundup ready corn in our diet. Glad to see you are getting more rationale on this. Helps your credibility on matter like genetically modified grains, which is not natural.

  2. Frank James 2012.04.10

    What frustrates me about this story is it's not about the short term safety of this product. I'm sure it won't kill you ... right away. Several other things bug me.
    First this is a movement driven by consumers who don't want to eat or buy pink slime. If this is enough to change the buying practices of HyVee and others well that's the free market. This was the message our leaders were giving us in the 80's as they stood by and watched family farms tumble from the face to the earth. Now they start clucking like mother hens about saving this company and it's wholesome product?! Not impressed!
    Second I come from a family of beef producers. This process captures every single last piece of beef like stuff on a carcass. Not using it means the country will need more beef which is good for my brother and family. Apparently not the folks our leaders or ag groups are really concerned about. Before everyone gets their panties in a wad I know there will be a short-term depression of the market but over time the demand will increase.
    Third, I've seen a lot of hand ringing for the jobs that will be lost if this company goes under. However, has anyone considered the jobs that this technology replaced. There were probably a great deal more trimmers needed before you had a machine to suck the meat off the bone.
    So not I don't want this crap for me or my family ... I won't buy it ... I'm not concerned about this Dakota Dunes company ... and I think we can all to better.
    Spleen vented!

  3. Bill Fleming 2012.04.10

    Yes, everything we eat is gross. And when we get eaten, that's even more gross. And yet, such musings are apparently at the root of all religious and mythological thought. (Note to Sibby... there was a time when it was healthy to be paranoid.)

  4. larry kurtz 2012.04.10

    This just came across my twitter feed: "Obesity now accounts for almost 21 percent of U.S. health care costs -- more than twice the previous estimates, reports a new Cornell University study." Science Daily.

  5. Steve Sibson 2012.04.10

    "However, has anyone considered the jobs that this technology replaced. There were probably a great deal more trimmers needed before you had a machine to suck the meat off the bone."

    Now we are cutting to the bone. As the government subsidizes Big Business, the little guy (small town meat lockers) are but at an disadvantage and are put out of business. Monopoly capitalism cannot exist without the help of an over powered government. So for those on the left who asy the solution is government regulation, you are wrong. Government regulation created the problem. The solution is less government. Give the little guy a fair and just competitive free market. Stop with the corrupt fascist public/private partnership mode of government. And the leadership of both parties are at fault here.

  6. Steve Sibson 2012.04.10

    Yes Larry, from your link:

    "Our beef is labeled at the federally inspected"

    BPI can say the same thing, right?

  7. larry kurtz 2012.04.10

    I have a very long history with BPI, Steve, have sold many tons of their product, and competed against skeletal meats from other vendors. Compare USDA inspection and grading.

  8. Steve Sibson 2012.04.10

    From you link:

    "The inspection and grading of meat and poultry are two separate programs within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Inspection for wholesomeness is mandatory and is paid for with public funds. Grading for quality is voluntary, and the service is requested and paid for by meat and poultry producers/processors. "

    So how do you allocate USDA's fixed costs to those two services?

  9. larry kurtz 2012.04.10

    All i can allocate to USDA, Steve, is responsibility for killing 2 million mammals in ten years.
    What's your point?

  10. Steve Sibson 2012.04.10

    Larry, your New Age Theology is showing.

  11. larry kurtz 2012.04.10


  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.10

    Frank, I greatly appreciate your boots-on-the-pasture perspective. A point that particularly stands out: you identify a certain hypocrisy in Bones's praise for the idea that pink slime obviates the need for 1.5 million more beef cattle. All those extra cattle would indeed create income and jobs. I would just hope that those cattle would be raised by a multitude of small, independent producers rather than a handful of big packer-enslaved CAFO operators.

    And yes, the free-market hypocrisy is quite rich here, too. Grassroots protest rises; citizens make clear their market preference; the market begins to respond... and Big Government Republicans race in to protect their favored market actors. That part is appalling.

    I recognize that a lot of people don't really pay attention to all the science and economics and politics in the food chain. But I want them to see "Ammonia in my burger? No thanks!" not as a final statement (because that issue, by itself, only invites the kind of response above that says, "Hey, it's in all sorts of stuff you eat, so why fret this but not that?", but as an opening to more deeply investigate why ammonia and hormones and pesticides and genetically modified seeds are in darn near everything they eat and then ask serious questions about whether they would support the kind of organic farming (and significant economic retooling) that would eliminate those contaminants and their long-term health harms.

  13. Frank James 2012.04.11

    Thanks Cory,
    I also think that line of scientific argument on this issue doesn't make sense and tends to move the discussion away from the consumer driven, consumer choice origins of this issue.
    BPI seems to get it as they recently announce they will "allow" the labeling of products that include their stuff. Doesn't this seem to be a good answer. Label the food and let the consumer decide. Pink Slime - yes or no? GMO's - yes or no?
    I mean I'm a populist liberal tracing my lineage back to the Nonpartisan League in Northern South Dakota and North Dakota. I'm not afraid of the government because we are the government. However, I'm willing to let the free market take care of this problem through a little labeling and consumer spending.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.11

    "I'm not afraid of the government because we are the government"—bless you, Frank.

    I agree wholeheartedly: let the market decide. Give people more information. Make clear what "Lean Finely Textured Beef" really means (connective tissue? if it's not actually muscle, can we call it beef?). Let the market decide.

    Then again, I learn from Wikipedia that Canada and the U.K. simply ban the stuff.

  15. Bill Fleming 2012.04.11

    I'll have the connective tissue omlette with cartilage sprinkles, Marsha. ...and oh yeah, some of that ammonia wasabi sauce will ya? Love that stuff.

  16. Jana 2012.04.12

    That whole labeling thing isn't sitting very well with Monsanto. They are threatening to sue the state of Vermont if they pass a bill requiring the labeling of genetically modified crops.

    "Lawmakers in Vermont are looking to regulate food labels so customers can know which products are made from genetically modified crops, but agricultural giants Monsanto say they will sue if the state follows through."

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.12

    How can a corporation prevent us from calling things what they are?

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