'Pink slime' or LFTB?
What's the truth about "pink slime?" Is it an unfairly maligned and unjustly slandered meat product or something to be avoided, especially in school lunch programs?
When a couple of former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists appeared on an ABC news program March 7 and used the pejorative term "pink slime" it went viral.
Bloggers and others with no knowledge of "lean, finely textured beef" - the industry name for it - ran with the term in the wake of the report, creating a public relations nightmare for the company that produces the product.
That company, Beef Products, Inc., said last week that it was suspending operations in three of the plants where the LFTB was produced. The closed plants are in Texas, Kansas and Iowa, according to a company spokesman. A fourth plant, in South Dakota was scheduled to continue operations.
The product is produced from trim in packing plants, which is the leftover meat that remains after workers trim off the muscle cuts of beef. The company developed a method to glean the remaining meat and fat off carcasses and then separate out the fat.
The LFTB, now known as "pink slime" has been an additive in ground beef, sausage and other meat products.
The Beef Products process involves heating and spinning the product to separate the fat from the lean meat and is then treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill any pathogens like E.coli or salmonella that may be present in the product. Company officials said the product ends up being from 94 to 97 percent lean beef.
Some food scientists have defended it as a lean, safe beef product and in the three-week fray that erupted in the press and on blogs, other says it's an example of an industrial food system gone awry. Some food retailers removed product containing it from their shelves.
After the product was given the name "pink slime" people on social media sites began to worry about its use in school lunch programs and online petitions sprang up to call for its removal from those meals in schools. Hundred of thousands of people have signed those petitions.
In light of that concern, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that it would allow schools to choose if they wanted to stop using it.
An article from "Feedstuffs/Foodlink" notes that Beef Products has been recognized by the USDA along with consumer and food safety groups for its commitment to food safety.
The National Meat Association (NMA) noted that the LFTB is not "scraps destined for pet food" as some media reports have portrayed it, but a federally inspected and approved beef product.