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Sandoval County CASA second annual “Walk for the Kids”

—Tammy Hanks

On April 28, at 10:00 a.m., the Sandoval County CASA program will be holding their second annual “Walk for the Kids” on the Intel campus (Hwy 528 and Sara Road). Over 350 participants are expected to attend to walk the 2.5-mile course to help raise funds to support abused and neglected foster children in Sandoval County.

The Sandoval County court-appointed Special Advocate CASA program is a volunteer-driven 501(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to serving abused and neglected foster children in the Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Placitas, and greater Sandoval County area. We train, support, and supervise volunteers from Sandoval County to watch over and advocate for these children, making sure that their needs don’t get lost in the overburdened legal system.

The first CASA program was formed in 1977 by a Seattle Judge who realized that he did not have enough information about the children whose lives his decisions seriously impacted. He recognized that he was being presented with information from the parents and child protective services, but no one was giving him sufficient information that was specific to the particular needs of each child.

Community volunteers were then recruited to follow each child through the foster care system and advise the Court as to what actions were in the best interest of that individual child. Having a CASA advocate proved to be a significant factor in children finding safe, permanent homes as soon as possible, and CASA spread across the US. There are now over one thousand CASA programs nationwide, with sixteen programs here in the state of New Mexico.

Active in our community since 1998, Sandoval County CASA works with the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), the thirteenth Judicial District Court, and numerous service providers to ensure the safety and well-being of all Sandoval County children.

Local judges assign CASA advocates abuse and/or neglect cases that have resulted in children being removed from their homes and placed into foster care. CASA advocates monitor the cases, collect information from all parties involved, and make recommendations to the court about what is in the best interest of each abused and neglected child. CASA advocates submit written reports to the judges, and sometimes testify in court.

CASA advocates can be instrumental in assuring that a child or family receives services which the judge has ordered—things like substance abuse counseling, speech and language testing, medical services, and family counseling. We give children a voice in Court. As long as the case is active, the CASA advocate monitors the situation and acts as a constant support for the child as they move through the maze of the child welfare system.

CASA advocates offer children a stable adult influence that they can trust to be in their corner during lengthy, and complex legal proceedings. When taking on a case, a CASA advocate pledges to stay with the case from beginning to end—whether that means a three month commitment or a three year one. It is often the CASA advocate that remains the one constant person for a child in a case where the social worker, treatment providers, and foster homes change repeatedly over the course of the case. Statistics have proven that a child with a CASA advocate is likely to move through the court system faster, is less likely to return to foster care, and is more likely to be provided with necessary supportive services.

In the past few years the number of abused children entering the foster care system in Sandoval County has more than doubled, yet State funding for our CASA program has dropped dramatically. These cuts have forced us to seek other revenue streams to support our advocacy efforts on behalf of the children. One of our most successful fundraising efforts has been our annual “Walk for the Kids.” Prior to the walk, walkers are asked to obtain financial pledges from their friends, families, and coworkers in support of their participation, and collected funds will be turned in. Last year’s walk was extremely successful, and we hope to double attendance this year.

Major community sponsors for the event include: Presbyterian Westside Hospital, New Mexico Bank and Trust, Lovelace Hospital, Waste Management, American Legion Post 118, Perfection Honda, Bryan’s Photography, Edit House, RMG Consulting, Rio Rancho Printing, Southwest Mobile Media, and Hub International Insurance.

Proceeds from the walk will be used to recruit and train desperately-needed new CASA advocates. All new CASA advocates are highly trained, receiving thirty hours of initial core training in such subjects as: courtroom procedures, child development, the cycle of abuse, mental illness, substance abuse, cultural competence, and the New Mexico State Statutes regarding abuse and neglect. Advocates are also required to participate in at least twelve hours of yearly in-service training.

The walk will begin at 10:00 a.m. on April 28 at the southern-most parking lot of Intel—look for the large mobile billboard.

For more information on how you and/or your group can participate in the walk, call Dr. Tammy Hanks at 720-7030 or visit the website at www.casasandoval.org.


Pink Slime

Photo credit: —Photo courtesy of Beef Products Inc
“Pink Slime.”.

Flash in the pan—

A time for pink slime

—Ari LeVaux

If there’s one thing America can agree on, it’s that “pink slime” is scary. The hamburger filler made from processed beef trimmings has been in use for decades, but now, thanks to social media-fueled campaigns and traditional media coverage from Fox News to MSNBC, we’re suddenly terrified of the stuff. But is pink slime really any worse than pink cylinders like hot dogs, or yellow nuggets of mechanically separated poultry? Probably not, but it seems to represent a discussion that is now time to talk about.

After having quietly graced pre-made beef patties in the U.S. since the early 1990s, pink slime hit the mainstream in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. An exec from Beef Products Inc. (BPI), which makes the pink product officially known as Lean Finely Trimmed Beef (LFTB) proudly welcomed the cameras into his futuristic facility, and said the product is in seventy percent of America’s pre-made burger patties.

Then, a 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times exposé that reported BPI had been lowering the levels of ammonium hydroxide used to treat LFTB, in response to complaints about the product’s strong ammonia smell. These reductions in treatment caused several batches of burgers destined for school lunches to test positive for E. coli and Salmonella.

Since the Times story, public outcry has forced several fast food joints to quit using the stuff in burgers, and supermarkets are dropping products that contain LFTB. When it broke out, on March 5, that USDA’s National School Lunch Program had just purchased seven million pounds of LFTB to mix with ground beef, the anti-slime forces rallied again. This isn’t the first time the USDA’s school lunch program has purchased LFTB, but judging by the pushback, it might be the last. Campaigns and industry counter-campaigns have been waged, petitions circulated, and innumerable Twitter hashtags generated, all in the name of pink slime.

Nobody without a financial interest in Beef Products Inc. could argue with a straight face that LFTB isn’t kind of gross. But does that make it evil? Processed meats like hot dogs, baloney, and chicken nuggets seem, on the surface, no less icky than pink slime.

Unlike LFTB, many nuggets and cylinders are made with mechanically separated meat. Chicken, turkey, and pork carcasses, already picked clean of presentable cuts, are pushed through filtering machinery under high pressure, removing every last scrap of tissue. The resulting fragments are used in chicken nuggets, turkey and pork sausage, and many other processed meats.

Mechanically separated beef, on the other hand, is no longer approved for human consumption due to concerns that bovine spinal cord fluid could spread mad cow disease. The final bits of beef are recovered via other methods that, while highly mechanized, are less traumatic to the carcass, minimizing spinal fluid leakage.

So if you’re averse to ingesting spinal fluid, beef-based pink slime is actually a better bet than chicken nuggets or hot dogs containing pork or poultry.

The biggest difference between LFTB and most other processed meats lies in how they are preserved. LFTB is dosed with ammonium hydroxide to raise the slime’s pH high enough to kill bacteria. These ammonium levels are not close to being toxic, but they still smell and taste foul, tempting processors to go light on the treatment to make the product more palatable.

While LFTB is an ingredient for extending ground beef, the other forms of processed meat I’ve been comparing it to are finished products, stable at refrigerator temperatures because they’ve been preserved by agents stronger than ammonium hydroxide. Some legal preservatives have been linked to cancer, and the World Cancer Research Fund has recommended that people avoid processed meats altogether.

While preservatives in processed meats are considered ingredients and thus require labeling, BPI has successfully argued that its ammonium hydroxide is a processing agent, not an ingredient, meaning it needn’t be listed on the product label.

For something that isn’t an ingredient, ammonium hydroxide has certainly made its presence felt. As the Times reported, blocks of LFTB had a heavy stench even when frozen, causing BPI to cut the treatment down to precariously low levels. To its credit, BPI has since improved its safety protocols and now leads the industry in testing for not just one, but all of the so-called Big Six strains of E. coli. Assuming BPI can control the bacteria in its product, what’s left to hate?

Gerald Zirnstein, a former USDA inspector, coined the term “pink slime” in a 2002 email. But his chief complaint about the stuff, according to the Times story, isn’t that it’s dangerous, pink or slimy, but that it’s misidentified. “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef,” he told the Times, “and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

This is hardly damning criticism—it’s like complaining that two percent milk is being labeled as whole milk. And LFTB is, in fact, pure beef, except for the ammonium hydroxide processing agent. So, it kind of is ground beef, arguably.

Implicit in Zirnstein’s comment is the assumption that the non-muscle beef tissue in LFTB is less nutritious than the muscle tissue in burger meat. But the tissues from which LFTB is made, including collagen, do in fact have nutritional value, as BPI rightly claims in its new website pinkslimeisamyth.com. Indeed, people pay a lot of money for collagen supplements in pill form.

So, is pink slime any worse than pink cylinders, yellow nuggets, brown breakfast sausage patties, or any number of mystery meat products? Probably not, and for what it’s worth, it isn’t even slimy.

Given that nuggets and dogs contain preservatives that are more dangerous than the ammonium hydroxide in pink slime, pink slime could pose less of a threat than other processed meats. And, the non-beef, mechanically separated meat products present the added bonus of spinal fluid, which, if there were such thing as mad chicken or mad pig disease, would be a problem.

Even if pink slime is no more dangerous than a bunch of other products out there, it’s nonetheless a timely opportunity to discuss the problems and realities of our industrial meat system. Given the recent bevy of state “ag-gag” bills-already signed in Iowa, and proposed in Utah and Illinois, it appears that battle lines are being drawn over the control of information of meat processing. These ag-gag bills would make it illegal to secretly record what goes on in meat processing plants. The forces of anti-slime could provide a boost of energy in opposing these measures.

On March 15, ten days after the war on pink slime in schools began, USDA announced it would “provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.” On the surface, this may seem like a decisive end to the war. But as Tom Philpott pointed out in a post for Mother Jones, USDA only supplies about twenty percent of the food in public school cafeterias. And much of the rest must be purchased from suppliers that slime their taco filling, lunch meats, and other beef products. As with most kinds of slime, it’s easier to mix in pink slime than it is to remove it.

Ari LeVaux lives in Placitas, where he writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that has appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 22 states. Follow him on Twitter at @arilevaux.


UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center to house the first breast tomosynthesis technology in NM

—Liz Anderson

When digital mammography began to see widespread usage approximately ten to fifteen years ago, physicians were quick to adopt the cutting-edge technology for patients, and it soon became the standard for mammography. But medical technology has since evolved. When UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center (SRMC) opens its doors this July, it will proudly offer women the first breast tomosynthesis technology in New Mexico.

“Traditional mammography is still acceptable, but this is the next step in diagnostic accuracy and patient satisfaction for mammography,” said Dr. Brad Cushnyr, Medical Director of Radiology, UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.

 “Breast tomosynthesis will mean that some patients will be spared from the false diagnosis of a suspicious breast mass. This ultimately will result in less of the stress and tension that comes with days and weeks of anxiety surrounding uncertain results and, in some cases, it will spare the patient from an invasive biopsy secondary to an abnormal mammogram,” Dr. Cushnyr said. “In some studies, this technology has shown an approximate thirty to forty percent reduction in false positive diagnostic results. Tomosynthesis will primarily be used as an adjunct tool in women with difficult mammograms.”

Women should begin routine yearly mammogram screenings at age forty. Women with a family history of breast cancer should consult with their physician regarding early screenings.

At SRMC, women will find a very patient-oriented mammography suite with selectable atmospheres and motifs to make them feel comfortable. Patients can tour the department and breast tomosynthesis technology at the SRMC Health Fair during the SRMC Grand Opening on July 7.

Visit UNMSRMC.org, for more information.

 
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