‘Pink slime’ makes media splashWritten by Saige Albert
Lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) is the result of a process utilized to extract lean beef from fat trimmings, and, according to the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) program, the high-technology processing strategy yields 10 to 12 pounds of additional beef per animal.
What’s the fuss?
A number of reports have claimed that LFTB is substandard, less nutritional and unsafe. High profile media outlets and popular television shows across the nation have perpetuated the myths with little or no scientific background to support their claims.
“‘Pink slime’ has gotten media attention largely because of what it is being called,” says Wyoming Beef Council Executive Director Ann Wittmann. “The truth of the matter is, it’s ground beef.”
Wittmann adds that, beyond increasing the poundage and weight of lean beef available to the consumer, LFTB ensures consistency and protein content in beef.
A ‘filler’ product
One notion that has circulated through the media is that LFTB is a “filler” product, and some are advocating for the labeling of any product containing LFTB.
Janet Riley, senior Vice President of the American Meat Institute, asked in an interview on ABC, “What are you asking me to put on the label? It’s beef.”
“It’s a beef product, and it says beef. It’s on the label,” she emphasized. “This is beef, so we are declaring it.”
Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), one of the companies who makes LFTB, has taken a number of steps to inform the public, including a series of videos on the process, and the launch of a website, pinkslimeisamyth.com.
“BPI’s product is not filler – BPI’s product is, in fact, lean beef,” says Iowa State University animal science professor Jim Dickson. “It is 95 percent lean beef.”
MBA also states, “This product is nutritionally equal to ground beef, and the process has been used safely for more than 20 years.”
“What the BPI process does is separate the lean meat from the fat. It is the same type of idea as ground beef, and it is really no different than ground beef that consumers buy,” continues Dickson.
For its nutritional value, H. Russell Cross, professor and head of Texas A&M University and former USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) administrator, notes, “All beef is a good or excellent source of 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins.”
Wittmann also adds that LFTB has a very high protein content, and there is no reason for the consumer to be worried.
A safe product
BPI has also come under fire for the use of ammonium hydroxide in the product to destroy bacteria. Other systems utilize citric acid instead, says MBA, but the idea is the same.
Dave Theno, doctor of food microbiology and animal sciences, adds, “For prevention to be effective it has to be dispersed at very precise level, that’s how it is approved as a processing aid, and it has to be dispersed evenly.”
“It doesn’t involve a washing machine and a jug of ammonia cleaner that he has gotten out of the household cabinet – that’s not how it works at all,” clarifies Theno.
“The beef is not ‘soaked in ammonia’ as many reports have claimed, but rather sprayed with a ‘hydrolyzed ammonia’ mist to kill bacteria, which then evaporates and completely dissipates,” says MBA.
When the product was first introduced, the FSIS approved LFTB after extensive testing to make sure it was safe for human consumption and complied with USDA regulations.
Cross says, “My staff and I evaluated numerous research projects before approving lean, finely textured beef as a safe source of high-quality protein.”
“The FSIS safety review process was and is an in-depth, science-based process that spans years, many research projects and involves many experts across all levels of the agency – and in this case, the process proved the product is safe,” he continues.
In fact, MBA states, in the past 10 years, while this technology has been used, the number of ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 has been cut in half.
What can you do?
Dispelling the claims spread through mass media is a difficult task, but there are some things that producers can do to help educate themselves and others about LFTB, according to Wittmann.
“One of the things I would encourage ranchers to do is join the Masters of Beef Advocacy program or contact the Wyoming Beef Council for talking points and information about the issue,” says Wittmann, adding that those already a part of the MBA program receive the talking points, as well as other information and alerts, when issues come up concerning beef.
“A benefit of MBA is that you are armed with information so you can address the issues comfortably, without feeling out of your element,” she adds. “If there are questions, we encourage producers to call us.”
Wittmann also adds that beef checkoff dollars are utilized in provide information to respond to issues, such as the pink slime scare sweeping across the country today.
“Your checkoff investments work to address these issues,” she says. “We have the science and the answers to these concerns, and producers are welcome to use us as a resource.”
“The product remains a safe way to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population,” Cross comments. “Finely textured lean beef helps us meet consumer demand for safe, affordable and nutritious food.”