Jobs suspended at BPI plants on "pink slime" media hype

News
Mar 30, 2012
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ABC World News ran a story in early March focused on the claims of two disgruntled scientists formerly with USDA. Along with other misguided claims, these men dubbed the Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) as nothing but “pink slime.” However, there’s nothing that is scientific or factual about their claims. The media has jumped on the “pink slime” band wagon, and has continued to leave out much needed facts for consumers to make educated decisions.

Last week, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) announced a temporary suspension of production of LFTB in three of its four U.S. plants, which delivered a significant negative economic blow not only to workers in the beef industry, but to the millions of consumers who enjoy beef every day.

More than 700 workers in Kansas, Texas and Iowa are being temporarily laid off, and this will impact more than 3,000 suppliers and others who rely on BPI’s business. The ripple effect of this shutdown stands to have a huge impact.

Consumers are already seeing a big increase in the price they pay at the meat case for ground beef and ground beef products because fewer cattle are coming to market. The increases will continue as ground beef producers seek additional sources—many of which will need to come from imported sources—to help deliver the ultra-lean ground beef products (90 percent lean and above) that many consumers demand, particularly heading into the busy summer grilling season. LFTB serves as a primary source of lean high protein which is added to most ground beef to produce lean ground beef.

BPI has been bombarded in recent weeks with story after story saying the product was not safe or healthy, followed by announcements of grocery stores such as Kroger and Safeway claiming they will no longer purchase ground beef made with LFTB.

Last Monday, BPI’s co-founder, Regina Roth, told a local television station, “There’s so much misinformation and all we can try to do is try to arm [consumers] with the facts.” The facts are simple, the company says, its products are made from 100 percent beef.

BPI has put together a new website, www.beefisbeef.com, or PinkSlimeIsaMyth.com, to begin the process of countering the myths.

Despite the overwhelming support from industry-leading food scientists, USDA officials, consumer advocate organizations, and academic institutions across the country—all of whom adamantly support the product as safe, wholesome and nutritious— the media continues to blast LFTB in an effort to discredit its safety, quality and value to millions of consumers worldwide.

“At a time when so many Americans struggle to put a healthy, nutritious meal on their family’s dinner table, the unfounded mischaracterization of Lean Finely Textured Beef as ‘pink slime’ is unconscionable,” said Barry Carpenter, CEO of the National Meat Association (NMA). “I am sure the public is not aware of how widespread and potentially devastating the consequences of allowing public misperception to trump sound nutritional science are.”

As the primary source of high-quality, safe, pure 100 percent lean beef protein, LFTB is used in high-demand products such as 90 percent lean ground beef, which makes up a significant percentage of all ground beef sold in the U.S. today. To meet consumer demand, the depletion of the supply of lean ground beef must be filled somehow, which may require the slaughtering of thousands of additional cattle or importing beef from outside of the U.S.

The raw material that the company uses is not scraps destined for pet food, as some would like consumers to believe. It is federally-inspected, high-quality beef trim.

BPI uses an innovative process to lower the fat content of these trimmings. This lean beef is then used in sausage, ground beef and many other foods. The food safety component of the process is the inclusion of the naturally occurring compound ammonium hydroxide, which has an antimicrobial effect. This same compound is used in making puddings, cheeses and processed foods.

In a statement on March 26, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, said: “Congratulations, ABC World News.

Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast.”

BPI and ag organizations have also pointed out that the photo commonly used in the articles is not even a photo of beef, but actually ground chicken.

Several politicians toured the plants last Thursday— including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels—and all agree with the industry view that the product has been unfairly maligned and mislabeled.

“Our states proudly produce food for the country and the world—and we do so with the highest commitment toward product safety,” the governors said in a joint statement. “Lean, finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product that is backed by sound science.”

NMA spokesman Jeremy Russell said if consumers insist on eliminating this product from ground beef, prices will go up. The process of creating lean, finely textured beef yields 12 to 15 pounds of additional meat per animal.

Russell said the misconception has already hurt BPI and other meat companies, and will eventually hurt the price that ranchers and feedlots receive for cattle.

“It’s costing them and other companies a lot of money,” Russell said.

BPI did get some good news last Wednesday when Iowa-based grocer Hy-Vee said it would offer beef with and without the trimmings because some consumers demanded the option. But larger grocery store chains, such as Kroger, have stuck with their decisions to stop offering beef with the trimmings added.

Later this year, when school districts buy meat from USDA for next school year, may be the final turning point on LFTB. USDA said earlier last month that it would give school districts a choice between 95 percent lean beef that contains the trimmings and less-lean beef without it.

Russell said school districts will have to decide whether they’re willing to spend roughly 16 percent more for beef without pink slime.

USDA this year is contracted to buy 111.5 million pounds of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. About 7 million pounds of that is from BPI. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

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