Mar 23, 2012

Slimed Again

Slimed again

They’re back! The celebrity foodies have selected Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) as their next target. It’s remarkable how fame can provide credibility to folks who have no idea what they are talking about. They do their damage and then they simply walk away. Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver caused a ruckus a year ago about dousing meat with household ammonia to illustrate the antimicrobial used by Beef Products Inc. The chef has been encouraging consumers to petition USDA to disallow the use of LFTB in the U.S. He has the ammonia thing a bit wrong, but otherwise, there is absolutely no safety issues related to LFTB. Somewhere along the line, the product was dubbed “Pink Slime,” which is a fairly disparaging remark about this product used primarily in ground beef patties. Simply put, it’s just a finer level of grind.

But I’d have to say that the genie is out of the bottle and in consumers’ minds, this stuff is downright bad. LFTB has been on the market for 20 years or so and inventor, meat-man Eldon Roth developed the product using trim from next door neighbor IBP, now Tyson.

According to Barry Carpenter, CEO at the National Meat Association, LFTB is common beef trim which is warmed up to a specific temperature to aid the separation of the lean beef and fat; the trim is loaded into a centrifuge and separates the fat and trim. It’s a simple, clever process that adds some value back into the beef carcass and provides a very lean, protein-packed product that is safe. The only real negative thing you could say about the product is it was nicknamed “Pink Slime,” which certainly doesn’t have a positive connotation.

It’s a tragedy when a good product developed with good intentions gets thrown under the bus for no good reason. This is clearly on the agenda for some anti-meat, anti-cattle groups, and I suppose we can throw the foodies into the fray since it was Chef Oliver who raised the first fake red flag.

The news media didn’t seem too concerned about finding the real facts when it came to reporting this story, which is becoming common.

The only thing in LFTB is 94 percent lean beef, beef fat, and a little ammonium hydroxide, a natural and common food pathogen-reduction component approved by USDA in 1974.

The bad thing is that the media drug USDA into the center of the issue through the school lunch program that they manage. LFTB is used and approved for ground beef used in the nation’s school lunch programs. “We agree, as do the nation’s leading food safety authorities, with USDA’s unequivocal statement that the BPI’s Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings are safe, wholesome, and nutritious. Anyone that has seen BPI facilities and our processes understands why we have an unsurpassed food safety record. We are a proud supplier to the school lunch program because the AMS has set a standard of only approving suppliers who have demonstrated the highest degree of quality and safety in their beef. It is only because our lean beef is nutritious and has achieved consistently high food quality and safety reviews that it is permitted into the school lunch program,” said Roth, owner of BPI. All of this media hype follows Roth’s recent Beef Industry Vision Award.

USDA announced last week that they would allow the schools to make the decisions about the ground beef they provide their students. The cost difference has been estimated at 6 cents a pound for product that doesn’t use LFTB, and it is estimated that the school lunch program uses 111.5 million pounds of ground beef. USDA was forced to punt the ball on this one, disregarding all of the science they have produced about the safety of the product.

The news media showed absolutely no responsibility on this story and has created a situation that will be difficult to resurrect. Word choice, “Pink Slime,” beat out science in this case, and a flipped comment about a valuable, safe product will have long lasting damage on a company that was doing the right thing.

However, it is apparent that the beef industry cannot afford to think that issues as insane as this one will go away. And, unfortunately, the term “Pink Slime” is here to stay. — PETE CROW