DES MOINES | A year after pulling the product from menus, schools in at least four states are again serving meat that contains Lean Finely Textured Beef.
For the new school year, schools in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Texas are buying bulk ground beef that may contain LFTB, the news site Politico first reported Wednesday, citing government data.
The purchase is good news for Beef Products Inc., the nation's largest LFTB producer. The Dakota Dunes company lost an estimated 95 percent of its school lunch business in the aftermath of a massive uproar in March 2012 over the low-fat product, which critics derided as "pink slime."
Under pressure from concerned parents around the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the first time gave schools the option of buying bulk ground beef with or without LFTB.
In the 2012-2013 school year, only schools in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota ordered beef mixed with the trimmings. The three states, where politicians and local residents rallied behind their homegrown employer, continue to serve the meat this year, bringing the total number of schools to do so to seven.
"We are pleased that these additional states have opted to provide this choice to their school districts," said Craig Letch, BPI's director of food safety and quality assurance, in a statement. "The USDA has repeatedly affirmed that lean finely textured beef is safe, wholesome, and nutritious 100 percent lean beef."
The change of heart by schools in the four other states appears driven by budgetary concerns.
Industry officials estimate the inexpensive trimmings reduce costs by 3 to 10 cents per pound. The savings quickly add up for districts facing tight fiscal constraints under the new national school nutrition standards.
Byran Black, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Agriculture, told Politico his state has not changed its policy on LFTB.
"It has always remained the same, it's a local decision. Schools have the option to request the type of beef they want to serve and USDA fulfills those orders," Black said.
The USDA, which administers the National School Lunch Program, does not buy LFTB directly, but purchases finished products from vendors who must meet the agency's order specifications.
The Sioux City Community School District continues to purchase beef with LFTB for its school lunches, spokeswoman Alison Benson said Wednesday.
Letch said BPI has supplied LFTB for the school lunch program for 15 years. As recently as two years ago, orders totaled 7 million pounds.
Made from bits of lean beef separated from fatty trimmings left over after carcasses are cut into steaks, roasts and other cuts, the trimmings are mixed with a fattier grind to create a final product that is more than 95 percent lean.
BPI is suing ABC News for $1.2 billion in damages, claiming the network defamed the company in a series of broadcasts in March 2012.