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The pink slime controversy

April 11, 2012

Pink Slime. Ever heard of it? The nickname originated between two scientists within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who were concerned about the safety and lack of labeling of the beef additive. The term "pink slime” became increasingly popular when Jamie Oliver brought attention to the controversial product on his Food Revolution TV show, created to bring awareness to the foods Americans are consuming and the link to childhood obesity.

I’ve heard of it. But what is pink slime?

In short, it has been termed “lean, finely textured beef”, an additive used in ground beef and beef products to help reduce consumer cost. Pink slime consists of beef scraps and connective tissue that have been mechanically removed from fat through a high-pressure, high-temperature process. The beef mixture is then treated with ammonium hydroxide to help eliminate possible pathogens, such as E. Coli and Salmonella. It is then finely ground and frozen into blocks to be shipped out to suppliers to use in their beef products.

The process of lean, finely textured beef is regulated by the USDA and has been deemed safe by their standards. The beef additive has made its way to many fast food drive-thrus, grocery stores, and school lunch programs, in efforts to keep food costs down. Since the use of lean, finely textured beef does not require labeling, it is difficult to determine exactly which companies use this beef additive in their foods.

The Controversy

Recently, the media has brought a flood of attention to the beef additive, comparing the quality of it to dog food. It has been reported that the beef trimmings used to create lean, finely textured beef were once only appropriate for dog food products and were not appropriate for humans to consume. Many are saying the only reason it is now okay for human consumption is because of the chemicals it is doused in as part of the sanitization process, hence the term “pink slime”.

The popularity of the “pink slime” nickname and growing concerns by consumers has encouraged many companies to reconsider the use of pink slime in their products. According to a recent article, Beef Products Inc. announced the temporary closing of 3 of 4 plants that produced the inexpensive, ammonium hydroxide-treated beef trimmings named “pink slime”. This was following the announcement that McDonalds, the National School Lunch Program, Safeway, and others would be reducing or eliminating the use of this product in their foods.

Despite recent media attention, the USDA is still defending the use of “pink slime” and calling it safe for consumers. A representative from the USDA says that they would not be serving this product to kids in their school lunches if they were not sure the product was safe. According to the USDA, it is just a product that helps to lower the fat content in beef and keep costs down. USDA representatives are also pointing out that many beef products served to the consumer undergo a “kill step” to get rid of pathogens and that beef trimmings are not the only product treated by some sort of sanitizer.

The Takeaway

Due to the recent media exposure to “pink slime”, many are choosing not to purchase products that contain this type of beef additive because of the process it undergoes. People are wary of its safety, despite what the USDA says. Many ask, “Why do we need to add filler to ground beef, when we can simply grind lean cuts of beef that come straight from the cow?” Many believe we at least have the right as consumers to know what is going into our foods, which can be done by labeling what products contain beef additives, such as lean, finely textured beef.

However, there are always two sides to the story. What about families who cannot afford 100% all natural beef products and are forced to choose between products that contain beef additives, or none at all? If we cut out all beef products that contain beef additives, we may be eliminating many food choices for lower income families. There may even be a bigger picture here to look at. Even though the sanitization process is safe, is it consistent with the quality of other beef products? While many are concerned about the process that produces lean, finely textured beef, maybe we need to raise more questions about the quality of the product.

We want to hear your thoughts. What is your takeaway on pink slime? Would you consider buying beef products that contain beef additives if it meant a cheaper option? What do you do to ensure your family is getting quality food products?