By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The biggest U.S. supermarket chain, Kroger Co, will stop buying the ammonia-treated beef product critics call "pink slime," bowing to consumer pressure one day after the nation's No. 2 and 3 grocers rejected the product.
Safeway Inc and Supervalu Inc said on Wednesday that they would also stop buying the product, which the meat industry calls finely textured beef.
"Our customers have expressed their concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef ... is something they do not want in their ground beef, " Kroger said in a statement, which noted that the Agriculture Department has said finely-textured beef is safe.
"As a result, Kroger will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef."
Internet news source The Daily reported recently that 7 million pounds of the product would appear in school lunches this spring prompting an outcry from consumers.
The USDA at first said the product was safe, then last week announced it was allowing school districts to opt out of using the beef starting next school year.
McDonald's Corp stopped putting the meat into its hamburgers in August after activists including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver drew attention to it.
Finely textured beef is made from beef trimmings that are heated to soften fat and then spun in a centrifuge to separate the meat. A puff of ammonium hydroxide, an ammonia and water mix, is used to kill bacteria.
The product is at least 95 percent lean and about 800 million pounds of it is made every year, according to the American Meat Institute, an industry group. The top producer is South Dakota's Beef Products Inc, followed by Cargill Inc.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Greg McCune)