The Associated Press reported Monday that three of the four plants that manufacture lean, finely textured beef, which has taken on the repulsive nickname “pink slime,” have suspended operations indefinitely. These plants are located in Amarillo, Texas; Waterloo, Iowa; and Garden City, Kan.
According to the AP, the Amarillo plant produced 200,000 pounds per day while the other two plants produced about 350,000 pounds per day. The fourth plant, in Dakota Dunes, SD, continues to operate. For 60 days, workers at the shut-down plants will get full salary and benefits.
I feel sorry for those folks. They’re just trying to make money to support themselves and their families. The larger picture, however, shows what consumers can do when they bond together and firmly decry a product or practice they find unacceptable.
The closure is directly related to the public outcry over the use of the ammonia-treated substance in ground beef found in school cafeterias, restaurants and grocery store meat departments. Pink slime has been around for years, and it was outed in the documentary “Food, Inc.” which was released in 2008. I can remember the Beef Products, Inc. interview and the comment that 70 percent of the pre-formed hamburger patties made in America contain LFTB.
Apparently that revelation was not enough to cause the shock and disgust that recently launched a social media campaign and petition to rid school cafeteria beef of LFTB. The campaign (complete with some pretty nasty pictures) has spurred coverage from traditional media. All of this attention has caused companies to hurriedly pull LFTB ground beef from store shelves and reassure customers that they are listening.
Those companies include Kroger, Food Lion and Safeway. Walmart, Sam’s Club and others are adding LFTB-free options to their current line of products. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it will give school systems the option of buying LFTB-free ground beef (keep in mind, however, that in a lot of school systems get only a small percentage of their beef from the Federal School Lunch Program).
But as is always the case in these situations, someone – often a reputable source – begins to question whether the outrage is warranted. In this case, one of those questioning sources is The Atlantic, which on Friday published a story called “Is It Time to Embrace Pink Slime?” The author, Ari LeVaux, considers other processed meat products such as hot dogs, bologna and chicken nuggets. Check out this interesting excerpt:
“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, unlike chicken, turkey, and pork, is no longer approved for human consumption, because of 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.”
LeVeux goes on to point out that ammonium hydroxide, the processing agent used to treat LFTB to kill bacteria such as E.coli, might be gross but it isn’t as strong as the stuff used to preserve other processed meat products. He also says that aside from the ammonium hydroxide, the other ingredients in LFTB actually contain stuff the human body needs, including collagen.
The Los Angeles Times on Monday quoted food safety attorney Bill Marler in a story about pink slime. Marler visited Southwest Virginia back in October, during the cantaloupe-listeria outbreak. He told the L.A. Times:
“BPI had a disclosure problem,” Marler said. “From a public relations standpoint, they handled it incorrectly. Ultimately, when you’re selling people food, you ought to be transparent about what you’re selling them.” He went on to say that, prior to this, BPI has had a very positive reputation in terms of food safety.
Finally, over on NPR, a Penn State food scientist named Edward Mills is saying, “From a microbial-pathogen point of view, the product has a better reputation than straight ground beef.” Mills says it won’t make ground beef any safer if LFTB is removed – in fact, it might make it more dangerous from a food safety standpoint.
I know one thing for sure – pink slime is going to boost the local food movement. It seems a perfect example of why so many people are trying to revert to the way our ancestors ate, raising their own meat and vegetables or buying from someone they know.
Where do you stand on lean, finely textured beef?