Should the FDA Require Fast Food Establishments to Disclose That They Use Pink Slime?

ByAyo Oti

Recent news that McDonald's hamburgers used to be processed with a chemical mixture of ammonia hydroxide begs the question: Do consumers really know what they are getting in their food products, and should the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) require food manufacturers to notify consumers of their practices?

Ammonia hydroxide is used in household cleaning products and fertilizers, but for McDonald's food manufacturing plants, it was just a product used to sanitize offcuts or scraps of meat — read, the less desirable parts. Pink slime, the combination of this chemical and meats like beef or chicken, helps to extend the shelf life of these meats while also ridding the food of bacteria.

The USDA classifies this compound as “generally recognized as safe” the agency knows that other food chains and manufacturers still continue to use this compound to process their meats. As of August of last year, McDonald's had stopped using the chemical in their supply chain, but it is interesting that the public is just now hearing of what was in their food.

While companies may argue that dispensing information about certain food production techniques may unnecessarily ward off consumers by creating fear of the product in question — especially when government agencies like the FDA and USDA have cleared them — I believe that is up to the consumer to decide. If the product is “safe” for consumption like the FDA and USDA claim, then the consumer can choose to take that advice should the McDonald's hamburger be something they still want to eat. However, if like me or many other food justice advocates across the country, a consumer has a problem with eating a food product that is processed with the same chemicals we use to clean our bathroom, they would want to be aware so they can say no to that Mickey D’s hamburger.

For those in the know about food justice and farming methods, documentaries such as Food Inc. made a segment of the U.S. population aware of particular fillers and chemical products placed in the fast foods that millions of Americans consume on a daily basis. (For more information, the International Business Times further listed foods that contain interesting additives in their article on the McDonald's pink slime issue). In the United States alone, there are approximately 12,804 McDonald's restaurants, which means that the company influences the diets of many Americans.

Food justice advocate and chef Jamie Oliver, perhaps known for his exposé on pink slime, has said of the issue, “Basically, we’re taking a product that would be sold at the cheapest form for dogs and after this process we can give it to humans."

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons