British media and bloggers are claiming that British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has stared down McDonald's about its use of what he has called "pink slime" in its burgers sold in America.
Oliver, who has been taking on school boards, local officials and the British government over nutrition, has made a long-running campaign of stopping McDonald's USA from using ammonium hydroxide as an ingredient in a beef filler for hamburgers, calling it not fit for a dog, according to the U.K.'s Daily Mail.
Long a fixture of culinary entertainment, with his own magazine and media empire, Oliver made a big deal of his opposition to the stuff before ABC canceled his show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, last spring following its second season, after he also took a swing at McDonald's Chicken McNuggets in addition to its hamburger patty ingredients (watch below).
For its part, McDonald's U.S. denied that Oliver had forced its hand about pulling ammonium hydroxide. "At McDonald's, food safety has been and will continue to be a top priority," the company told brandchannel in a prepared statement, quoting Todd Bacon, the company's aptly-named senior director of quality systems for supply-chain management.
"McDonald's USA has always used 100% USDA-inspected beef," Bacon continued. "Currently, McDonald's USA does not use ammonia-treated beef in our hamburgers. The decision to discontinue its use was not related to any particular event, but rather a result of our efforts to align our standards for beef around the world."
"McDonald's complies with government requirements and food safety regulations. We also have our own food safety measure and standards in place throughout our supply chain to help ensure that we serve safe, high quality food to our customers."
According to the Daily Mail, Oliver's media campaign indeed influenced the USDA to pressure the fast food giant:
US Department of Agriculture microbiologist Geral Zirnstein agreed with Jamie that ammonium hydroxide agent should be banned. He said: 'I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labelling.'
The defiant chef is pleased at the decision by McDonald's stop using the ammonium hydroxide processes meat. He said: 'Why would any sensible human being want to put ammonia-filled meat into their children's mouths? 'The great American public needs to urgently understand what their food industry is doing.' McDonald's denied its hand had been forced by Jamie's campaign.
McDonald's change of direction is an abrupt reversal for a chain that otherwise seems to be operating on all cylinders, even with critics. Its move to rid its iconic french fries of trans fats has mollified some food activists, while McDonald's 2011 decision to add more fruit and reduce calories in its Happy Meals — the new options are being rolled out nationwide right now — has pacified others.
The world's biggest quick-serve restaurant brand has also been under fire in the U.S. for trumpeting local farmers or "producers," with a Twitter campaign turned on its head by McDonald's-bashers and nutrition/animal rights activists.
The company's executives, undeterred, are forging ahead. They have declared that they will use new products and store enhancements to build on the chain's huge sales gains of 2011, including a new "premium" Chicken McBites line that it's rolling out right now.
In another validation of his US campaigning for healthier food choices, Olive's Twitter feed this week applauds the USDA's new school lunch standards, which improve the food choices for America's 32 million students.