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UPDATE: The Pink Slime Backlash

Posted in Foodborne Illness

Raw Hamburger As we reported several weeks ago, there has been a media fueled public outcry against the inclusion of Pink Slime, which is otherwise known as, “lean finely textured beef,” or “LFTB,” in ground beef.  LFTB is comprised of the beef scraps which remain after the valuable cuts of meat are sold.  These pieces of meat are separated from fat through the use of a centrifuge, and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill harmful bacteria. The result is a safe, edible, high quality beef product containing the same nutritional value as other ground beef.   In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to proclaim that both LFTB and the use of ammonium hydroxide to eliminate bacteria in meat are safe.

Despite the USDA’s continued support for LFTB, the social media led firestorm directed against LFTB has caused a significant backlash against the product.  For example, all but three states which participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which is administered by the USDA to provide low income school children with a free or reduced cost  lunch, now refuse to purchase ground beef which contains LFTB, despite the fact that it costs three percent less than the alternative. In addition, many restaurants, including McDonalds, and supermarket chains have followed suit and ceased the sale of ground beef which contains LFTB. As a result, many large beef producers have suffered large declines in revenue.  In fact, Beef Products, Inc. (“BPI”), the largest LFTB manufacturer, was forced to close three of its plants and lay off 650 employees.

In an effort to resuscitate their flagging businesses, many beef producers recently submitted requests to the USDA to add labels indicating the inclusion of LFTB. In response, the USDA instituted a voluntary labeling initiative, which many beef manufacturers have already put into practice.   In a further effort to increase transparency and dispute misinformation, BPI has also set up a website, www.beefisbeef.com, which provides valuable factual information about LFTB and the way it is produced.

The impact which the “Pink Slime” phenomenon has had upon the beef industry and the speed with which it developed are staggering.  The sale and consumption of LFTB had been widespread for more than thirty years, with USDA approval. Nevertheless, in a span of a few months, one of the country’s largest industries was derailed through the lightning fast spread of misinformation and misperception.   Perhaps, the lesson to be learned by the food industry is that transparency is the only way to prevent attacks such as those waged against LFTB.