Setting the Record Straight
By Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation President
Pink Slime. It’s another over-hyped, inaccurate catch phrase designed to scare consumers about the safety of our food supply. One of the biggest challenges agriculture faces today is fighting back against what sometimes seems like a constant barrage of misinformation about our food supply and what goes into producing it.
Questions and concerns about our food supply often come under scrutiny, as they should. The act of putting food in one’s mouth is one of the most intimate things we do and scrutinizing the safety of food is very important. However, questions about the safety of our food supply can quickly become emotional and overblown, as is the case with so-called pink slime.
To better understand this discussion let’s first define what we are talking about. Lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is the product being referred to as pink slime. The phrase was first found in a USDA internal memo that was provided to the New York Times in 2009 resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request. What consumers should first understand is that LFTB is just plain old beef that is separated from the trimmings that result from the processing of cattle. Pieces of fat that are cut from carcasses contain small pieces of red meat. The meat that cannot be separated from fat with a knife is separated through a heating and centrifuge process. The meat is then treated with ammonia in gaseous state to kill bacteria and then mixed with beef that is ground into hamburger. This process makes beef processing plants more efficient and reduces the amount of waste left over. Before the process was adopted, this waste was used to make pet food and cooking oil.
Why use ammonia? We understand why consumers would be concerned about a cleaning product being used to treat food. Ammonia and water, both naturally occurring compounds, have been used to make food safe since 1974 when the Food and Drug Administration permitted its use. LFTB receives a puff of ammonia to eliminate bacteria safely and effectively. When combined with moisture naturally in beef, ammonia hydroxide is formed, a naturally occurring compound found in many foods, in our own bodies and the environment. Food safety experts and scientists agree it is an effective way to ensure safer ground beef and to reiterate, it’s been in use since 1974.
The U.S. has the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply of any country on the planet. This most recent blow-up over LFTB resulted in three beef processing plants being shut down and over 300 people losing their jobs. If consumers don’t want to purchase ground beef that contains LFTB, they have many options to choose from. But in our opinion, it’s wrong for the media to create a controversy over a product with a safety record that has been proven over the last 38 years.
Let’s also not lose sight of the facts that the United States has the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply of any nation on earth and that our global population is expected to double by 2050 which will put even more pressure on our ability to produce food for the masses. We expect an increasing demand for processes like the one developed to create LFTB will be needed to increase the efficiency of our food production system.
Following are a few quotes from experts discussing the quality and methods used to produce LFTB. More information can be found atwww.beefisbeef.com
“It’s safe, it’s leaner than other beef sources on the market, and it’s less costly.” - Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer sciences
“Ammonium hydroxide itself is used in a multitude of different food products. It’s not a safety concern.” – Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety
“There has been a lot of misinformation swirling around the Internet and on TV about lean beef trim produced by Beef Products, Inc. I have personally visited their plant and the categorization of calling their product “pink slime” is completely false and incendiary. Consumers need to understand that this product is meat, period, and that the use of ammonia hydroxide in minute amounts during processing improves the safety of the product and is routinely used throughout the food industry.” – Nancy Donley, founder STOP Foodborne Illness.