I stopped watching network news and reading mainstream newspapers years ago when it became evident many stations and newspapers were no longer interested in getting both sides of a story. Somewhere along the line, broadcasters and writers began injecting their oftentimes uninformed and one-sided opinions instead of the facts into their stories.
So when the “pink slime” headlines started popping up days ago, which in my opinion wrongly refers to the scientifically proven-safe product known as lean finely textured beef — my heart sank because I am familiar with this safe and effective process. I have visited one extraordinary plant that makes this product several times during the past 10 years. On each visit, it was a showcase of cleanliness, product safety and cutting-edge technology. This plant resembles a dairy plant due to all of the stainless-steel equipment, tubing and walls.
The offensive, unfair term pink slime was reportedly coined by a former USDA PhD. during a recent ABC investigative report on the product. I didn’t see this program, but the negative fallout and publicity from this program has been staggering. Since it aired, many large supermarket customers and foodservice giants have announced their decision to stop offering or using ground beef containing LFTB because the unfavorable publicity caused concern to consumers of their products. Of particular concern to many uninformed consumers was the use of ammonium hydroxide and the charges that unwholesome meat is used in the process. And there were almost 3,000 results when the term “pink slime” was typed into the Google news search engine on March 26 – many touting this term in the headline.
Consumers should be grateful, not concerned, this process was developed. Beef Products Inc., Dakota Dunes, SD, developer and manufacturer of LFTB, explains on its web site as a part of its commitment to provide the safest lean beef possible, it created the pH enhancement process. This process relies on slightly increasing the level of ammonium hydroxide already present in beef to elevate its pH. In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution.
Ammonium hydroxide, or the combination of ammonia and water, is naturally present in all proteins, including beef. Ammonia has many benefits and uses in food production. It is widely used in processing baked goods, cheeses, gelatins, chocolate, caramels and puddings. One significant result of this food-safety system is a dramatic reduction in the number of potential pathogens that may be present in foods, such as E. coli O157:H7.
BPI explains the pH enhancement process is just one important component of its overall food-safety effort. By adding a minute amount of ammonia gas to the beef, BPI raises the pH in the beef to help kill any harmful bacteria that could possibly be present. BPI's use of ammonium hydroxide has been approved by the Food & Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture and was implemented only after review with several of the most prominent consumer safety groups in the US.
This is a proven safe and effective process, but resulting stories since the investigative report have accused the beef industry of using this ingredient to mask unwholesome meat or that industry is using what is found under the kitchen sink (ammonia) in its meat.
A long-time industry food-safety expert, who wished to remain anonymous, told me he saw a CNN report on "Pink Slime". “I have never seen such false and misleading reporting,” he said. “They quoted Senator Robert Menendez from NJ as saying, ‘The largest concern is clearly the safety of the product itself. The leftover scraps are treated with ammonia because they come from parts of the cow with high exposure to fecal matter.” – Unbelievable! They also kept referring to FDA as the agency that regulates meat products and not USDA. This whole issue has degenerated into a PR debacle.”
USDA has announced since this program aired it is offering a choice regarding the beef available through the National School Lunch program, which may give the appearance to some that the agency is backpedaling on the safety and effectiveness of this process it has already approved.
“We respect the USDA’s decision to offer schools a choice ...” said an American Meat Institute statement following the agency’s announcement. “At the same time, we remain committed to helping consumers understand why beef products that include lean finely textured beef [LFTB] are a safe, wholesome and responsible option. We urge consumers to consider USDA’s comments today in announcing the new school lunch option.
The Department wrote in a press release, “USDA continues to affirm the safety of lean finely textured beef product for all consumers and urges customers to consult science-based information on the safety and quality of this product. Lean finely textured beef is a meat product derived from a process which separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content.”
LFTB is nutritionally equivalent to lean ground beef, the AMI statement added. “It is important to recognize that while some reports have called LFTB an additive or a filler, these terms are absolutely inaccurate,” the statement continued. “LFTB is simply a beef product that starts with wholesome, inspected trimmings that result when large carcasses are cut into smaller portions. These trimmings can look much like bacon, where fat and lean meat are intertwined. The process used to make LFTB removes the intertwined fat from the lean and the result is a 95 percent lean beef product.”
AMI points out that other foods also are processed by machine, from milk to orange juice, but they still can be called milk and orange juice. “In the same way, LFTB is beef and slang terms should not be used to characterize it,” AMI warns. “Ground beef packages that contain LFTB are accurate in being called simply ‘ground beef.’”
Most major grocery chains that have since bailed on offering LFTB have explained they are simply listening to their concerned customers. But did those who made these decisions listen to sound science regarding this technology before dropping this product? Most consumers are concerned due to sensational stories on pink slime that are popping up everywhere and these accounts are flawed, at best.
Regardless, one prominent industry source fears the LFTB PR battle may already be lost at this point. He further fears that safe and effective chemicals used as effective beef slaughter interventions could someday suffer the same unfounded attacks LFTB is suffering today.
BPI founder Eldon Roth offered some good advice in a statement he recently released: “As parents and consumers continue to make important decisions about the food they and their children eat, we hope that they listen to credible sources outside media sensationalists and take note of the overwhelming support from the government and scientific community who have routinely testified that our lean beef trimmings are 100 percent beef and are produced, and tested in a way that makes this food very safe.”
I strongly believe in a saying my late father-in-law used to say regarding controversial situations: “What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong.” Demonizing LFBT is definitely wrong.
BPI should be lauded, not punished, for developing this process. For facts on this process, visit www.pinkslimeisamyth.com.
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