GE pigs, pink slime gone; what’s next?

A friend in grad school used to get pigs off.

He needed their semen for genetics research and, that was how to get it (with props, the mount-equivalent of lingerie, I guess).

That was 1986, and I would soon drop out of grad school to pursue Hunter-S-Thompson-esq journalist escapades, but not nearly as interesting.

The grad student worked with John Phillips, a prof in molecular biology at the University of Guelph, an excellent teacher (the rest of the department? not so much) and my occasional squash partner. After one match, I commented, with the arrogance of youth, you’re putting on a few pounds.

He said, when you’re this age, it will look pretty good.

Was he ever right.

Dr. John teamed up with a microbiology prof and in the 1990s they developed the Enviropig, a genetically engineered pig that could reduce phosphate contamination into the environment. Enviropigs digest feed more efficiently than naturally bred pigs, resulting in waste that may cause less environmental damage to lakes and rivers.

The project has sat in regulatory limbo for over a decade.

The project has produced eight generations of Enviropigs, including the current herd of 16 animals. But they may be the last of their kind, after Ontario Pork yanked their funding last month.

Self-proclaimed enviro-types claimed victory, but again, there were no winners.

Unlike pink slime, there were no politicians grandstanding the cause, no media reacting to media about sensationalist coverage, no talking heads about the excellence of science.


But why not, if the science is sound and the cause just?

There will be another pink slime, sooner rather than later – and those same self-proclaimed environmental activists have already taken ownership of pink slime as a catchphrase for things hidden. Food and Water Watch proclaims that doo doo chicken is the new pink slime.

Meanwhile, AFA Foods, based in King of Prussia, Pa., which processes 500 million pounds of ground beef products a year, declared bankruptcy yesterday, after the public outcry over pink slime derailed its efforts to save its already struggling business.

A meat manager for a major New York supermarket chain told Advertising Age, "The morning after the reports came out, ground-beef sales dropped. We ended up throwing chopped meat away. We don’t even use pink slime and we had to put signs up everywhere saying that. People wouldn’t even touch it."

All of this is a culture where food science is nothing compared to food porn (see below).

Draw back the curtain on all mystery meat

Politicians eating burgers does not, historically, inspire confidence.

Watching Midwest governors chow down on hamburgers containing pink slime, er, lean finely textured beef (LFTB yo) from Beef Products Inc. during a press junket last week immediately brought to mind former U.K. Agriculture Secretary John Gummer feeding a hamburger to his four-year-old daughter, Cordelia, as concerns about the safety of British beef in 1990, the early days of the mad cow disease debacle.

Things didn’t turn out so well.

It’s become routine for politicians to chow down on foodstuffs that been slighted, real or imaginary:

• in 1996, the Japanese prime minister scarfed down radish spouts after an outbreak that killed 11 and sickened almost 10,000 with E. coli;

• Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien indulged in a burger after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered in Canada in May 2003;

• French President Jacques Chirac and future French president Nicolas Sarkozy consumed cooked chicken during the International Agriculture show in Paris in March 2006 to bolster confidence after an outbreak of avian influenza;

• Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in 2006 he often fed salmon to his own children after Russia banned imports of fresh Norwegian salmon because of worries about toxic metals;

• Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell lunched at a Philadelphia Taco Bell in Dec. 2006 after an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to lettuce sickened 71;

• in 2008, Italy’s Agriculture Minister, Paolo De Castro, dug into some buffalo mozzarella for the cameras after assuring the European Commission that no mozzarella cheese contaminated with cancer-causing dioxin had been exported;

• during a 2008 salmonella-in-cantaloupe outbreak, President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras downed some homegrown melon for a CNN news crew, proclaiming, "I eat this fruit without any fear. It’s a delicious fruit. Nothing happens to me!” and,

• last year, Spanish politicians rushed to consume cucumbers incorrectly fingered in the E. coli O104 outbreak eventually linked to raw, organic sprouts.

Forget the theatrics. Show me the data. And let me choose.

I’ll choose safe food.

But pink slime isn’t really about safety.

How could such a technologically-savvy company such as Beef Products Inc. – the makers of pink slime – resort to such an ole timey public relations strategy that may have created some converts but overall fueled concern about the technology?

As noted science-and-society type, Dorothy Nelkin, er, noted in 1995, efforts to convince the public about the safety and benefits of new or existing technologies — or in this case the safety of the food supply — rather than enhancing public confidence, may actually amplify anxieties and mistrust by denying the legitimacy of fundamental social concerns. The public expresses a much broader notion of risk, one concerned with, among other characteristics, accountability, economics, values and trust.

Nelkin’s Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology, while flawed, was instrumental in my approach to these issues, food-related or not.

And now that the slimy dirty work’s been largely done, arm-chair quarterbacks are surfacing with declarations of originality that reek of recycling. In an Internet era, that’s easy. Chapman calls them tracers.

Everyone is probably relieved to know Andrew Revkin of the New York Times is OK with pink slime, even though his family rarely eats beef and he’d love to see the day when all beef comes from free-range herds like the one up the road (move to Australia).

In Taiwan, hundreds of people dressed in black protested yesterday in front of Liberty Square at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei against a proposed policy to lift the ban on meat that contains lean-meat additives.

Holding electric candles, the crowd of about 600 participants set out on a silent march toward Ketagalan Boulevard at sunset, which organizers said symbolized the coming of a dark food-safety era in Taiwan.

Wendy’s Co says it never has used pink slime in its hamburgers and ran ads in eight major daily newspapers around the United States on Friday to let diners know that. "We have never used lean finely textured beef (pink slime) because it doesn’t meet our high quality standards," Wendy’s spokesman Bob Bertini told Reuters.

Quality and safety are two different things. I’ll choose safety.

Today’s USA Today has competing opinion pieces about the safety of pink slime but they say nothing that couldn’t have been said three weeks ago, three months ago, three years ago, or three decades ago.
What will happen when the next mystery ingredient is unveiled, like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard in Oz.

Any farm, processor, retailer or restaurant can be held accountable for food production – and increasingly so with smartphones, facebook and new toys down the road. Whether it’s real or just an accusation, consumers will rightly react based on the information available.

Rather than adopt a defensive tone, any food provider should proudly proclaim – brag – about everything they do to enhance food safety. Explanations after the discovery of some mystery ingredient sorta suck.

That’s why microbial food safety should be marketed at retail so consumers actually have a choice and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of honesty. Be honest with consumers and disclose what’s in any food; if restaurant inspection results can be displayed on a placard via a QR code read by smartphones when someone goes out for a meal, why not at the grocery store? Or the school lunch? For any food, link to web sites detailing how the food was produced, processed and safely handled, or whatever becomes the next theatrical production – or be held hostage.

What Wendy’s is doing is nothing but exploitation marketing, telling people what isn’t in food instead of what is. (which is what the vast majority of food marketing is).

Maybe the next mystery ingredient to go viral will be something in Wendy’s burgers.

Provide all information up front (we have experience with this having sold genetically engineered corn at a farm market for 3 years a long, long time ago), get the science right, don’t BS.

Choice is a fundamental value. What’s the best way to enable choice, for those who don’t want to eat pink slime, or for those who care more about whether a food will make their kids barf?

Governor’s Ball: Politicians come out for pink slime; urge it not be called pink slime

 Dude it’s beef.

That’s the slogan Midwestern governors came with to a press conference after a tour of the Beef Products Inc. plant in Nebraska yesterday, much like the background audience at a Today Show taping on the streets outside 30 Rock.

It’s beef, but is it meat?

The safety of pink slime, or lean finely textured beef, and the operations of BPI don’t seem to be in question: choice, right-to-know, and what constitutes meat are in play.

Food safety type Michael Batz and others have noted the original beef was whether this beef constituted an adulterated product. According to the regs Batz found, there are nine definitions for meat that is considered “adulterated.” One states, “If any valuable constituent has been in whole or in part omitted or abstracted therefrom; or if any substance has been substituted, wholly or in part therefor; or if damage or inferiority has been concealed in any manner; or if any substance has been added thereto or mixed or packed therewith so as to increase its bulk or weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”

I don’t know. Others can inform on that one. But the PR goes on, laying bare the bicoastal political landscape of the U.S. reports that during an emotionally charged 45-minute news conference that followed a media tour of a Beef Products Inc. plant in South Sioux City, Neb., governors from beef-producing states alternately appealed to and browbeat the media on its coverage of lean finely textured beef.

Nancy Donley, president of STOP Foodborne Illness, whose 6-year-old son died of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome caused by eating an undercooked hamburger said she was there to “stand tall and in support of our dear friends Eldon and Regina Roth” and their company. She praised BPI’s food safety innovations in keeping the types of pathogens that killed her son out of meat products. “These folks save lives.”

Gov. Rick Perry (Texas) asked ABC News Senior National Correspondent Jim Avila to justify his news reporting which is seen by many as a tipping point in media and social media coverage that led to food retailers and school districts rejecting the product, even though it has never been implicated in a consumer illness.

Avila at first refused to answer, but later pointed out that ABC had never reported that the product was unsafe, but focused on the fact that ground beef products were not labeled to indicate the presence of LFTB. To this point, many of the speakers said the product is simply beef and not a filler or an additive.

The emotional pinnacle of the event came when Avila questioned Donley on her organization accepting financial donations from BPI.

Donley said STOP Foodborne Illness has been grateful to BPI’s support “with no strings attached.” She said BPI has never asked her “for anything — ever.” Her voice shook as she said, “No price can be put on my son’s head. I cannot be bought,” to a round of applause.

Gary Acuff, director, Center for Food Safety Texas A&M University addressed the ammonium hydroxide pathogen intervention BPI uses by noting ammonia is used as a leavening agent, in coffee creamers and in chocolate products. He said tofu contains about four times the ammonia that LFTB does.

Acuff also noted that recovering the extra beef from each animal that is made possible by BPI’s process is a sustainability issue. By some estimates, it would take an additional 1.5 million head of cattle to produce the beef that will be lost if the product is no longer in the market. Gov. Perry said the process extracts 10 to 12 extra pounds of beef from each carcass.

Gov. Terry Branstad (Iowa), who yesterday announced he had convinced Hy-Vee supermarkets to return to carrying products with LFTB, said he planned to engage every other major supermarket chain in similar conversations.

How many scientists wouldn’t have loved that level of government and individual support with technologies such as rBST, genetic engineering and irradiation?

The complete press conference can be found at

Daily Show does pink slime; skewers industry and government communication efforts

Political fodder is comedic gold.

Satirists, like others, also eat.

Jon Stewart loves cheeseburgers.

The ingredients of public outrage over pink slime melded like a savory stew last night on the Daily Show to produce a potpourri of insights on how not to chat with people who eat.

And it was so easy because the politicians and industry seem so hapless.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad held a press conference in Des Moines Wednesday afternoon to address concerns and educate the public about the processing of lean, finely textured beef, or LFTB.

"That’s why we’re going to have people from Iowa State University and Texas A&M and knowledgeable people from USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) counter the smear and counter the misinformation with the facts," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

Facts are never enough. Otherwise rBST would be routinely used in dairy production, genetically-engineered foods would be flaunted not shunned, and irradiation would make pink slime redundant.

Science is never enough in the public arena.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, said education is especially important when a growing number of people are increasingly farther removed from agriculture.

"The reality is a very small percentage of America’s population produces 85% to 90% of what we consume.”

I’m not sure what being a beef farmer has to do with meat processing that involves centrifuges.

Stewart reasoned, "any food can be disgusting if you take its ingredients out of context." Perhaps the same thing was true of pink slime burgers?

Stewart cut to an animated news report that explained the process for making pink slime: Waste trimmings are gathered, simmered at low heat to make it easier to separate fat from muscle, then put into a centrifuge, sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria, compressed into bricks, flash-frozen and finally shipped to grocery stores nationwide, where it’s added to ground beef. Yummy!

He also expressed his admiration for the beef industry’s preferred nomenclature, "lean, finely textured beef." "It makes it sound like something rich beef-eaters can buy from Hammacher Schlemmer," Stewart said. "It’s the cashmere of beef."

Stewart also marveled at the irony of pink slime: "McDonald’s doesn’t think it’s an appropriate thing to eat? These are the people who molded a pork disc into a rib-shaped sandwich … that contains no ribs. Nobody knows how they did it! But this stuff, pink slime? That’s too fake for McDonald’s?"

I can provide references for everything I say – that educating people is about the worst communications strategy because it invalidates and trivializes people’s thoughts. But that stuff is boring.

Stewart says the same thing but in a way that is much more entertaining.

Whenever a group says the public needs to be educated about food safety, biotechnology, trans fats, organics or anything else, that group has utterly failed to present a compelling case for their cause. Individuals can choose to educate themselves about all sorts of interesting things, but the idea of educating someone is doomed to failure. And it’s sorta arrogant to state that others need to be educated; to imply that if only you understood the world as I understand the world, we would agree and dissent would be minimized.

Or as Stewart said, “You got rid of it because we found out it was pink slime.”

Proponents of pink slime or any other technology shouldn’t expect consumers to roll over and accept it. They need to promote, brag and saturate microbial food safety claims in the marketplace. Otherwise, any farmer, processor or restaurant can be held hostage by a mere accusation – regardless of the science.

Shoppers will support honest information, instead of being told they have to become better educated about someone else’s limited perspective.

The Daily Show segment is available for U.S. viewers at–2012—pt–2.

If I ran BPI and made pink slime

I’m Eldon Roth.

I’ve spent my life committed to making food safe for millions of people. For me, my wife, my kids, my grandkids, and millions of school kids across the U.S.

If I’m at a family BBQ, or meeting with government inspectors, I say the same thing: we provide safe, sustainable meat, at an affordable price.

I’ve watched the devastation that dangerous bugs like E. coli O157:H7 can wreak on people’s lives, loved ones, and innocent children who just wanted a burger.

That’s why my company, BPI, instituted the best food safety practices for beef production – and long before government told us what to do.

It was the right thing to do.

My company publicly discloses all test results, good or bad, not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Bacteria happen. We’re doing whatever we can, along with the best science, to provide safe, sustainable and affordable beef.

Freedom of choice is a fundamental right in American society; it’s something I personally value. That’s why we provide any and all information about our products and processes. Labels, websites, smartphone codes, you want it, we’ll make sure it’s there, because I value choice.

And I choose safe food.

(Note: this only works with the risk assessment and management expertise in place to underpin the communication claims).

Vote for Summer.

The latest in defensive statements that won’t work can be found at

Pink slime producer suspending production

The Associated Press is reporting that the company that makes "pink slime" is suspending operations at three of four plants where the low-cost beef filler amid a public outcry over concern about the ingredient.

Beef Products Inc. spokesman Craig Letch on Monday told AP about the operations suspensions at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa ahead of a public announcement about the plan. The company’s plant at its Dakota Dunes, S.D., headquarters will continue operations.

The ammonia-treated additive known by the industry as "lean, finely textured beef" has been used for years but recently became a target of activists seeking to have it banned from supermarkets and school lunches. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow school districts to stop using it. Some retail chains have pulled products containing it.

The pink slime games; chronicles of the bizarre

Beef Products, Inc. ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal Friday along with copy by Nancy Donley, President, STOP Foodborne Illness talking about the role of ammonia hydride and food-grade antimicrobial sprays in hamburger production, along with some choice words from Eldon Roth, CEO of BPI, about the "campaign of lies and deceit that have been waged" by the "entertainment media, tabloid journalists, so-called national news." He says the "misinformation campaign" may result in the "loss of over 3,000" jobs. He also says that the "lean beef" from his company has been in over 300 billion meals.

The choice of a print media outlet appealing to the business elite raises some issues: do many people who eat hamburger from grocery stores or school cafeterias routinely read the Wall Street Journal? Is print media the best way to reach Americans? Who are the PR geniuses that came up with this strategy and why do they keep telling BPI to blame the media for reporting on what is a right-to-know issue?

New York-based Wegmans said Friday it will stop selling ground beef that includes the ammonia-treated filler known as "pink slime in response to customer concerns caused by "sensationalism" over the product.

A spokesman for Cargill, the leading U.S. ground beef producer, told The Daily that "pink slime" is "pretty much over." And that "the industry produces 800 million pounds of finely textured beef every year. We’ll likely have to raise an additional 1.5 million head of cattle to make up for the loss.”

As predicted when USDA abdicated leadership and left things pink and slimey up to schools, PTA meetings are now seemingly dominated by fillers rather than meat.

The Boston school district, among others, has taken the step of purging all ground beef from its menus to immediately get rid of pink slime. Other districts, like the New York City schools, have begun phasing out ground beef containing the additive from their lunchrooms.

Michael Peck, the director of food and nutrition services for the Boston schools, said the district had decided to hold and isolate its entire inventory of ground beef, leaving over 70,000 pounds of beef — worth about $500,000, Mr. Peck estimated — confined to a warehouse until the district knows more about what is in it.

“It’s another example of the alteration of our food supply,” said Mr. Peck, who is concerned about the use of ammonia hydroxide gas to kill bacteria in the product. “Have we created another unknown safety risk?”

In Portsmouth, N.H., it was the memory of an E. coli scare over spinach that led Deborah Riso, the district’s nutrition director, to decide she would take no chances.

“You just pull it because you don’t know,” Ms. Riso said from her office, where she was expunging ground beef from the April school menu. “I had a hamburger bar, so I’m going to do a hot roast beef sandwich. I had a beef or chicken burrito — I’m going to go with the chicken and rice burrito,” Ms. Riso said. “You can still make a nice product without beef.”

The schools’ exodus is grounded less in science than in instinctive revulsion, said Donald W. Schaffner, director of the Center of Advanced Food Technology at Rutgers University.

“I don’t see that there is a scientific or health benefit from the point of microbiology or even toxicology,” Dr. Schaffner said of the rush to pull the beef from school menus. “The reason why it’s resonated with people is not so much that it’s unsafe, but the idea that we’re putting ammonia in our food is unpalatable to people.”

Reuters reports that every time someone calls former U.S. government scientist Gerald Zirnstein a whistleblower, he cringes a little.

When he coined the term "Pink Slime" to describe the unlabeled and unappetizing bits of cartilage and other chemically-treated scrap meat going into U.S. ground beef, Zirnstein was a microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He made the slime reference to a fellow scientist in an internal – and he thought private – email. But that email later became public, and with it came an explosion of outrage from consumer groups.

"You look through the regulations and a lot of that stuff was never approved for hamburger. It was under the radar," said the 54-year-old Zirnstein, who lives outside Washington, D.C. with his wife and 2-year-old son. "It’s cheating. It’s economic fraud," he said in a telephone interview.

Zirnstein, who worked in a meat plant growing up in Kansas, said the situation came to his attention a decade ago. In 2002, he was working as a USDA food scientist and was assigned to a project to determine what was going into ground beef and whether the ingredients met federal regulations.

At the same time, the beef industry was asking the government to endorse a new product they called "lean finely textured beef" that was largely trimmings typically used for pet food and cooking oil. The trimmings were treated with ammonia to kill dangerous bacteria.

USDA officials approved the processed product. Zirnstein was disgusted, and made his opinion known to co-workers in an email that called the processed product "pink slime." The email was later released to the New York Times as part of a Freedom of Information request for a 2009 investigative article on food safety. The newspaper article mentioned the slime reference in passing.

"Nobody did anything (about pink slime). USDA dropped the ball again. The meat industry soft sold it," said Zirnstein, who left USDA and took a job as an industry consultant but now is unemployed. The issue got renewed life when British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who advocates for American children to eat healthier food, devoted an episode of his television show to the topic in April last year.

Oh, and pink slime isn’t used in Canadian burgers – at least according to Health Canada, which says it hasn’t ruled on the product because no one has asked. But Canadians do ship burgers to the U.S. that contain E. coli O157:H7. And get recalled.

Lemon juice is icky too; be honest with consumers and disclose what’s in any food

“There’s an ick factor to almost all food."

That was my short-take on the pink slime smearfest, which has now dragged retailers, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, into the murky morass where public opinion intersects with scientific evidence.

This is nothing new.

Me, I find E. coli and salmonella in raw sprouts icky.

Other people find ammonium hydroxide, or pink slime, icky. People may soon discover they find citric acid icky because that’s what Cargill uses to yield finely textured beef and reduce the pathogen load.

It’s pink, it’s meat, it’s lean finely textured beef – LFTB yo – versus pink slime in public opinion, and processors, retailers and government spokesthingies are acting like they’ve never encountered a food-related, or any risk-related issue where public opinion is different from scientific advice.

It’s theatre, like a Mike Daisey production.

Mike Hughlett of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes today that Supervalu Inc., one of the nation’s largest grocery chains, will no longer sell hamburger containing an ammonia-treated beef filler dubbed "pink slime" by some food critics and a growing chorus of consumers.

The Eden Prairie-based company, which owns local supermarket leader Cub Foods, on Wednesday joined several fast-food chains and other major grocery operators in removing the controversial beef filler from hamburger sold in its outlets.

"This decision was due to ongoing customer concerns about these products," said Mike Siemienas, a Supervalu spokesman.

While ammonia-treated hamburger filler has gotten most of the popular attention, Supervalu also said its ban on so-called "finely textured beef" includes meat treated with citric acid, which is made by Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc.

California-based Safeway Inc., another national grocery chain, also Wednesday said it nixed sales of both ammonia-treated and citric acid-treated ground beef fillers. Cargill spokesman Mike Martin acknowledged that some of its grocery industry customers have eliminated finely textured beef.

"There have been customers who have contacted us because they have been contacted by consumers who are interested and concerned," Martin said.

Did Safeway and Supervalu stores get eggs from those nasty DeCoster farms in Iowa that sickened some 2,000 people with salmonella in 2010. Did they rely on crappy food safety audits to make their decision. If they are so concerned about consumer concerns, why won’t they provide information on egg suppliers? Or any other food?

Choice is a good thing. I’m all for restaurant inspection disclosure, providing information on genetically-engineered foods (we did it 12 years ago), knowing where food comes from and how it’s produced.

But I want to choose safe food. Who defines safety or GE or any other snappy dinner-table slogan drop? Removing pink slime hamburgers reduces my choice to buy microbiologically safe food.

USDA and the companies that previously outlawed pink slime acted expediently to manage a public-relations event. But they unwillingly undercut other efforts to provide safe, sustainable food.

What is USDA going to do about school lunch purchases containing genetically-engineered ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, and a whole slew of politically-loaded ingredients or production practices?

If consumers want to become food connoisseurs and safety experts, more power to them. I view my job, and the job of farmers, processors, distributors and retailers, regardless of political leanings, to make evidence-based information available and let people decide.

Market microbial food safety and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of honesty. Be honest with consumers and disclose what’s in any food; if restaurant inspection results can be displayed on a placard via a QR code read by smartphones when someone goes out for a meal, why not at the grocery store? Or the school lunch? For any food, link to websites detailing how the food was produced, processed and safely handled, or whatever becomes the next theatrical production – or be held hostage.

Pink slime gone; but are companies, USDA really interested in choice?

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

If you believe proponents, critics and prison wardons, disputes about science and facts and personal relationships are failures in communication, in that you don’t agree with me.

It’s based on an authoritarian model and is the oldest excuse out there; all kinds of problems could be solved if everyone just communicated better, especially scientists and others.

For almost 30 years I have been told failures in communication underpin conflict when usually it is failure to commit – to an idea, a belief, a principle.

And it’s not new.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s line on BPI’s pink slime was, "All USDA ground beef purchases must meet the highest standards for food safety. USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce that we have confidence are safe.”

Two hours later, USDA changed its tune, leaking the news that schools will have choice in response to requests from districts.

The official announcement came earlier today. “USDA only purchases products for the school lunch program that are safe, nutritious and affordable – including all products containing Lean Finely Textured Beef. However, due to customer demand, the department will be adjusting procurement specifications for the next school year so schools can have additional options in procuring ground beef products. USDA will provide schools with a choice to order product either with or without Lean Finely Textured Beef.”

Eldon Roth, founder of BPI, issued a statement today again focusing on safety, which is fine, but blamed media coverage. “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% beef and are produced, and tested in a way that makes this food very safe. The facts can be found at”

Facts are never enough.

BPI has followed the well-worn script of fact-based communication, and failure has followed.

The American Meat Institute backed a statement by BPI by saying, “First of all, it shouldn’t be referred to as ‘pink slime.’ That is part of the problem. What we need to do is better communicate the true facts to consumers. The accurate label is beef. It’s just lean, finely textured beef; not ‘pink slime.’”


Referring to last year’s E. coli O104-in-sprouts outbreak Germany’s ministerial director and federal director of food, agriculture and consumer protection, Bernhard Kühnle told a recent gathering, “We need to make sure we establish trusted scientists to communicate to the media before there is a crisis …The more days the crisis continued the more experts appeared in the media. Someone said it was certainly cucumbers, and someone else said it was raw milk. Someone even said it was caused by Al Qaeda.”

Yes, if only trusted scientists would communicate better. Didn’t help BPI.

BPI also made the fatal mistake of denying consumer choice.

BPI director of food safety and quality assurance Craig Letch told“Long-story short, the whole situation has been a gross-misunderstanding of the product and the processing measures involved with the product. It has directly stemmed from media-outlets trying to sensationalize and build up hype around the product.”

Letch added that consumers do not need to be informed that the product is included in another meat product as it is “meat, 100% lean meat.”

Choice is a good thing. I’m all for restaurant inspection disclosure, providing information on genetically-engineered foods (we did it 12 years ago), knowing where food comes from and how it’s produced.

But I want to choose safe food. Who defines safety or GE or any other snappy dinner-table slogan drop?

Self-proclaimed food activists are no better, claiming their educational efforts won the day. The number of people barfing from food will not be reduced by rhetoric. No one won.

USDA and the companies that previously outlawed pink slime acted expediently to manage a public-relations event. But they unwillingly undercut other efforts to provide safe, sustainable food.

What is USDA going to do about school lunch purchases containing genetically-engineered ingredients, hormones, antibiotics and a whole slew of politically-loaded ingredients?

Commitment means bragging about it. Market microbial food safety and hold producers and processors – conventional, organic or otherwise – to a standard of producing food that doesn’t make people barf. That’s something shoppers will support, instead of being told they can’t choose and have to become better educated about someone else’s limited perspective.

‘It’s pink, it’s meat,’ lean finely textured beef – LFTB yo – vs pink slime in public opinion

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Carl’s having fun in his retirement.

Not content with an audience of food safety nerds, Carl went big, on ABC News last night.

Bigger stage, bigger scrutiny; more exposure, more criticism (unless you’re Tom Hanks).

As seen in the ABC news clip, Gerald Zirnstein grinds his own hamburger these days. Why? Because this former United States Department of Agriculture scientist and, now, whistleblower, knows that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls “pink slime.”

“Pink slime” is beef trimmings. Once only used in dog food and cooking oil, the trimmings are now sprayed with ammonia so they are safe to eat and added to most ground beef as a cheaper filler.

It was Zirnstein who, in an USDA memo, first coined the term “pink slime” and is now coming forward to say he won’t buy it (shurley shome mistake; wasn’t it the Jamie Oliver ministry? No).

“It’s economic fraud,” he told ABC News. “It’s not fresh ground beef. … It’s a cheap substitute being added in.”

Zirnstein and his fellow USDA scientist, Carl Custer, both warned against using what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef,” widely known now as “pink slime,” but their government bosses overruled them.

According to Custer, the product is not really beef, but “a salvage product … fat that had been heated at a low temperature and the excess fat spun out.”

The “pink slime” does not have to appear on the label because, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat.

“The under secretary said, ‘it’s pink, therefore it’s meat,’” Custer told ABC News.

ABC News has learned the woman who made the decision to OK the mix is a former undersecretary of agriculture, Joann Smith. It was a call that led to hundred of millions of dollars for Beef Products Inc., the makers of pink slime.

Today, the meat types fought back. disputed Custer’s claims that the product isn’t muscle but connective tissue. “But connective tissue isn’t red. Any redness (or pink, in this case) is associated with myoglobin — meaning it’s of muscle origin.”

It’s pink so it’s meat.

“We actually have equipment in place specifically designed to remove any sinew, cartilage, or connective tissue that may come in with raw materials, just like the companies that take trim and produce ground beef,” Rich Jochum, BPI’s corporate administrator told Meatingplace. “Our finished product is typically 94 percent lean.”

Ammonium hydroxide isn’t the only intervention. Cargill uses citric acid, just one of several alternatives to treat what it calls finely textured beef (FTB) to reduce the pathogen load.

The product is included in approximately 70 percent of all ground beef products, Cargill spokesman Mike Martin told Meatingplace.

Food-grade ammonium hydroxide is also commonly used as a direct food additive in baked goods, cheeses and chocolates.

Carl doesn’t have much to worry about if the best proponents can come up with is the tired but continually tested, change-the-language-change-the-mind strategy: lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) just isn’t as catchy as pink slime.

Industry types, if you’re proud of your product for its bacterial-reducing capabilities, promote it, reclaim and own the term pink slime; market it.

Instead it’ll be like the genetic engineering types who spent a fortune in the 1990s learning that the term genetic engineering scares people, so it’s better to call it biotechnology. The spokethingies will go to risk communication seminars, learn to express empathy, but still wear $1,000 Italian leather loafers (the douchebags don’t wear socks) and have sweaters tied around their neck for that common-man look (on sale now at J.C. Penny), all while trying to convince the masses of the virtues of lean finely textured ground beef.

That cull dairy cow has gone through the pink slime barn door.