Wasting Time On Pink Slime

Inside Dakota Ag

Wasting time on pink slime: Did meat packers and USDA figure farmers wouldn't mind trying to explain the product?

Published on: April 3, 2012

I’m surprised that the beef industry seems surprised by the pink slime controversy.

Two weeks ago, ABC News reported that “its investigation” revealed that 70% of the ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contained something critics called pink slime – a filler made by spinning the flecks of beef off trimmings and disinfecting them with ammonia. The industry calls it Lean Finely Textured Beef.

Of course, ABC News sensationalized the heck out of the story. It isn’t new. It’s been around since 2001.

The New York Times had written industry-government debate over the disinfection process a couple years ago. But to its credit, the New York Times accurately reported that the product was 100% beef and hadn’t caused any health problems. ABC News passed that information off as the industry’s spin and an example of government corruption, because the USDA official who approved the process later went to work the industry.

Shame on ABC News.

But shame on Beef Products, Inc. – the makers of the filler – too.

Didn’t they imagine that a pink slime expose would go viral in the age of 24 hour news programs, YouTube and Facebook?

Didn’t they consider the possibility that consumers wouldn’t like it?

Well, perhaps I’m being naïve.

BPI officials probably knew exactly what risk they were taking. But they were already all-in. They had factories up and run. They employed hundreds of people. They were making a product that nearly all food processors were buying.

They probably calculated the risk of bad publicity. They probably know how long consumers will stay interested in the story, how many orders their customers will likely cancel and how they will have to keep their factories closed down.

They probably also factored into their “what if” scenario that farmers and ranchers would rally to support them and would launch a big public relations campaign to educate the public that beef is beef, no matter how it is made.

But it might not be possible to defend pink slime. At best, farmers and ranchers are wasting their time. At worst, they are burning through their political capital with consumer.

Too bad the beef industry didn’t stick to using trimmings for dog food.