So there's been a lot of chattering about this "pink slime" thing recently. As a professional food safety scientist, I'd like to weigh in on things.
I've done some researching, and while I can only draw tentative conclusions, here's what I've found:
1) "Pink slime" is 90% lean, and consists largely of beef trim that has been reclaimed via centrifugation, after the fat has been removed by simmering. The reclaimed meat is ground and then treated with a weak ammonium chloride gas to reduce the bacterial load in the meat, extending shelf life and improving product quality.
2) This ties back to the ammonia in beef thing. The rate of exposure to ammonia is low and has produced very good results. It's really a non-issue. Ammonia is present in beef naturally, and the rates used in gassing are very low.
There's some controversy about the exemption that BPI was granted, but that was revoked anyhow, and I've read conflicting information about the nature of the exemption. Nothing in the US exempts any ground beef manufacturer from having a beef HACCP, though.
3) As far as I can tell, the USDA Labeling Policy Book:http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OPPDE/larc/Policies/Labeling_Policy_Book_082005.pdf
would permit the addition of "pink slime," provided it was of skeletal, esophogeal, or diaphragm (skirt) origin. This also only applies to products labeled as "ground beef."
It seems that "beef patty mix," or "100% beef patties," can contain more of it. So, y'know, those cheap pre-formed patties are full of cheap meat. And "meat patties" are even worse, allowing the presence of partially defatted beef fatty tissue (PDBFT). Though, the processes there are fine - it's just that your "meat patties" are less "meat" than you probably think.
"Ground chuck" and "ground round" have to come from the chuck and round, respectively, but may add some portion of shank meat as well. They may not use skeletal meat. This would mean that pink slime cannot be present in "ground chuck" or "ground round."
4) As for "organic" food not being able to use pink slime, that is TECHNICALLY true. However, the only reason they can't use something like the BPI slime is because it's treated with ammonia. An organic beef producer would be allowed to, say, centrifuge beef to separate the lean from the fat, then grind the lean into that fine pink paste and add it to their beef. The only thing they're not allowed to do is use ammonia to make it safer.
This is only if they're labeled as "organic." If it's "made with organic beef," it can still contain the ammonia-treated pink slime.
But here's the list of stuff they CAN add:http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=bc046b5d4859099a23b78e86e74dca67&rgn=div8&view=text&node=7:220.127.116.11.32.7.354.6&idno=7
And here is the text about the processes which can be applied:http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=bc046b5d4859099a23b78e86e74dca67&rgn=div8&view=text&node=7:18.104.22.168.32.3.354.16&idno=7
And even then, I'm not sure if the ammonium chloride treatment would actually be prohibited:
(c) The handler of an organic handling operation must not use in or on agricultural products intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)),” or in or on any ingredients labeled as organic:
(1) Practices prohibited under paragraphs (e) and (f) of §205.105.
(2) A volatile synthetic solvent or other synthetic processing aid not allowed under §205.605: Except, That, nonorganic ingredients in products labeled “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” are not subject to this requirement.
I'm not really sure if ammonia gas is considered a "volatile synthetic solvent," though it's probably a "synthetic processing aid." But a nonsynthetic might very well be allowed.
So, an organic food production place could put "pink slime" sans ammonia into their ground beef and you still wouldn't know.
1) Any establishment that adds so-called "pink slime" to its beef is still subject to the same USDA regulations as every other ground beef manufacturer in the country.
2) The ammonia treatment is harmless and effective as far as we know. Recent evidence suggests that it is not as effective as we had thought, but it's still a very effective pathogen control technique. This does not preclude the need for testing and monitoring of this product.
3) USDA has strict regulations about the labeling of products based on ingredients. "Ground beef" may contain pink slime; "ground round" or "chuck" may not.
Now, there is an issue where this is showing up in schools, and people are concerned about their children being exposed to it. Setting aside the fact that it's no less safe than other beef (as far as we can tell), I can see the concern about feeding our kids the equivalent of table scraps.
The solution? Stronger funding for public schools. Teach kids to respect food at home by eating out less and avoiding cheap fast food. Start there.
4) "Pink slime" is meat - it's just been reclaimed through a process. Y'know how you make split pea soup with a ham hock in it? Or make soup stock with bones? Or throw meat trim into sausage? Meat processing is ugly. Sorry.
5) Once again, "organic" is not the answer to your concerns, since they can totally use finely ground beef scraps that HAVEN'T been treated with ammonia. In other words, they can REMOVE safety measures in their beef production, while still giving you meat with ground scraps in it. An organic certification is NOT a safety certification.
6) Finally, at its core, this is process that attempts to increase the yield per cow. It's making more efficient use of the resources we have, and that is something we need to do more and more. You could say that we should curb our appetite for beef - and maybe that's true - but in no way does that also preclude the need to make our resource production as efficient as possible. That'll mean we're using the fewest resources possible in our efforts to produce food.