What the End of 'Pink Slime' Means to You

11:48AM Mar 31, 2012
( )

Comer said industry guesses on hamburger price increases range from 3 cents per pound to 25 cents per pound. Hamburger prices already have risen by 70 cents per pound, about 25 percent, in the 24 months since February 2010 because fewer cattle are going to market.

Beef Products Inc. of Dakota Dunes, S.D., said it was closing three of its four plants, at least temporarily, after a pink slime firestorm erupted on social media.

In Waterloo, Iowa, workers were told that they would continue to receive pay and benefits for 60 days, and that it was unclear when the plant would reopen. BPI also shuttered plants in Garden City, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas.

Although no cases of illness or disease traced to the trimmings have been reported, a collective revulsion factor fed by postings on Facebook, YouTube and an ABC News series prompted the widespread halt in use of the product, which has been on supermarket meat counters since the early 1990s.

"It's crazy," said Phil Barber of Brewer Meats, a Des Moines meat wholesaler. He said his company has not knowingly used meat with the filler.

Barber nonetheless said of the trimmings, "They're free of E. coli, and they're 95 percent fat free."

Futures prices for slaughter-ready cattle and younger feeder cattle both rose almost 1 percent Tuesday on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The higher cattle prices followed several days of pullbacks from record levels, as traders and retailers worried that high beef prices would erode consumer demand ahead of the summer grilling season.

"There had been a pullback in prices, but the news about the beef trimmings probably is bullish for cattle in the long run," said commodity trader Jeff French of Top Third Ag Marketing in Chicago.

Commodity trader Dennis Smith of Archer Financial Services in Chicago suggested that the cutback in the use of the trimmings will make beef supplies even tighter and added that consumers' revulsion may hit their pocketbooks.

"Long term, the refusal by consumers to use this product (lean finely textured beef) will make less beef available and force prices higher. If that's what the consumer wants, that's what they'll get," Smith said.

BPI purchases the trimmings and makes them into a filler that constitutes up to 15 percent of total volume in ground beef products. Since the early 1990s, the federal Food and Drug administration approved the process, and it scarcely raised an eyebrow until last week, when social media comments went viral over its depiction as pink slime.

The name pink slime originally came from a former USDA microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, but it has taken off because of postings by Food Network chef Jamie Oliver and others.

Meanwhile, ABC News ran a series of reports this month that widely disseminated the pink slime moniker.

"While lean finely textured beef was given a catchy and clever nickname in 'pink slime,' the impact of alarming broadcasts about this safe and wholesome beef product by Jamie Oliver, ABC News and others are no joke to those families that are now out of work," President J. Patrick Boyle of the American Meat Institute said in a statement.

"This shows the impact of the social media," said Kevin Concannon, former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services and now undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the USDA. "There is absolutely no evidence that this product is unsafe, and it is low fat."

Concannon's office last week told the nation's schools that if they wished to stop using beef with the additive, they were free to do so. Those schools joined most of the nation's major supermarket and hamburger chains in dumping the product.

About pink slime

How it's made: Like most meat processing, the way in which finely textured beef is made is not particularly appetizing to watch. It involves taking the scraps from the meatcutting process and running them through a heat-and-centrifuge process and then a bath in ammonia to kill potential E. coli bacteria and salmonella.

How it's used: Products that contain the additive include fresh retail ground beef, low-fat hot dogs, lunch meats, beef sticks, pepperoni, frozen entrees, meatballs and canned foods.