Dodging the Issue and Missing the Point: Pink Slime

LFTB or pink slime is 100% beef. That’s the claim. Is it true? Yes, it did come from a cow and is 95% lean even though the proteins aren’t quite the same and there’s more collagen content compared with ground chuck. Without LFTB would we really need 1.5 million more cattle slaughtered every year to make up for the demand? I really question these calculations and have no idea who did them in the first place. Is the remaining ammonium in the resultant product unsafe? I really don’t think so. Does LFTB make a healthier product because it’s leaner? Sure, but does NOT eating a burger make for a healthier choice too, heck yeah! But does any of this really matter?

No, because that’s not the point. The shoot the messenger and dispel the myths approach is appalling. It’s not surprising that Beef Products, Inc. and the supportive beef industry have stooped to this.

Sure, some people have jumped on the bandwagon thinking this is an inherently vile and unsafe product that must be outright banned. I’m not one of those people. Sure I question the safety because, after all, the trimmings need to be treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to be deemed safe for human consumption. And BPI products have tested positive for E.coli O157:H7 in the past. Luckily, no one seems to have become ill from their products. And it most certainly IS used as a “filler” regardless of its beef is beef status. But the real issue?


Beef Products, Inc. has failed in the transparency department. They didn’t want the product labeled. The guise is that the USDA said it didn’t have to be. But was it that simple? It most certainly was not. Now, instead of saying to the general public, “We understand that it’s an unappetizing process that you were not previously aware of, but we think it has a benefit, here’s why, and we’re going to slap a label on it.”

That level of humility, honesty, and admission of failure at transparency, all in one sentence, was all it would have taken. Instead, BPI gets Terry Branstad (governor of Iowa) and two other governors to speak out for pink slime and against the media “smear campaign.” They make t-shirts saying “Dude, It’s Beef”, make a brand new website dispelling the myths of pink slime, and buy up Google Ads for searches on pink slime. They admit no fault and play the martyr. Oh, poor BPI millionaire CEO who doesn’t like that people find his product unappetizing and don’t like that it was put into ground beef without their knowledge. I have zero sympathy for him. I do have sympathy for any of his plant workers who might be out of a job. That’s on the company for not being transparent. Another example of their lack of transparency involves reporting E.coli and Salmonella testing results. In 2010, they promised to do just that. The company then scrapped the plan. Thanks for the transparency! They’ve also sued Iowa State University (a public university) to prevent release of research a professor did for BPI from coming to light. The list goes on…

I hope the beef industry pays attention to this and learns the right lesson. So far, they have not learned the right lesson and continue the same tired tactics. The right lesson is that humility, honesty, and transparency are more important than crisis management PR campaigns and protecting your bottom line at all costs.

Here’s a superb timeline of BPI and pink slime:


6 Comments on “Dodging the Issue and Missing the Point: Pink Slime”

  1. Travis Arp says:

    So where is the line drawn on transparency? Is food production going to have to get to a point where we produce in glass plants? I know you want to make BPI out as a villan and saying they should have just come forward and labeled it, but the fact matter is that you are rarely going to see a food producer come forward and say “hey, lets just label this and get it taken care of.” The reason organics labeled their products is to differentiate from the market and increase their price over commodity…and there was pushback when the USDA made them go through certification processes to have an official USDA Organic label on their products. Hence, why not everyone producing organically puts the official USDA lable on it, and if it doesn’t, you can’t necessarily trust how it was produced.

    But back to BPI, I think there is a big difference between hiding from consumers and having confidence in your product. Just because there is a higher proportion of collagen, it doesn’t make it less pure beef. The micostructure of the sheath which wraps around muscle fibers, fiber bundles and muscles as a whole contain cross linking of collagen. Collagen is part of the structural unit of a myofibril. Its inherent to the structure of all muscles. It does change its binding properties but does not change its status as beef. So BPI produced it, they realize its beef and they shouldn’t feel obliged to go out of their way…especially when this whole mess was created because someone blew their whistle and spread FALSE INFORMATION.

    The whole argument of why LFTB is bad is based around all of the fallacies that have been distributed around this story, and no one seems to be looking for correct answers in this situation. Hence why BPI has made those websites and people like me write blogs trying to explain how/why the product is produced. Yet, on this blog and many others, you continue to perpetuate those statements which are false and its completely disingenuous to the process. You’re going to have a tough time for the beef industry to admit that their wrong to anything when the majority of the pink slime story was created around mis-thruths

    • ethicalplate says:

      What statements have I made that are false? I think ANYONE would have a tough time getting the beef industry to admit they did ANYTHING wrong. That’s how they operate, . That’s what we don’t like. No humility or transparency. And I think a glass slaughterhouse and a glass plant sounds like a fantastic idea.

  2. Steve Arp says:

    The humility, honesty and admission of failure is a 2 way street. Why don’t you support people such as Jamie Oliver and Jim Avila being held accountable for their lies. They said it was floor sweepings which it was not, that it was dog food being used for human food which it was not, and in a demonstration Jamie Oliver pours liquid household cleaner in massive quantities into a meat grinder. And they perpetuated the name pink slime because that is sensationalist journalism at its worst. It’s blatantly obvious that in the manner in which they reported this, they had now intension of being anything but one sided. Otherwise they would have interviewed other accredited muscle biologists in academia about the credibility of the report, rather than taking the word of someone who had left the industry. You make it sound as if the beef industry made the only mistake here. The truth is, if journalists hadn’t told lies, embellished the story, or even mentioned that ammonium hydroxide has been approved for use in the food industry since 1974 and was commonly used in the production of many foods, THEN there would have never been a story.
    And lets suppose that hamburger had been labeled. I would contend that it would mostly go unnoticed. Do you read the long list of ingredients on every label on everything you buy in the store? And if you do, do you research every additive, preserative, food by-product and colorant to determine its origin, its nutritional composition, and its physiologic activity in the body. I doubt it, but at least you can say its there, if that makes you feel better. Personally, I feel that the record of food safety in this country is excellent. Can you feed 300,000,000 people every day without incident? No. But considering the incredibly low frequency of problems I’d say that American farmers, the USDA, the FDA and large corporations that process food on a daily basis are doing a fantastic job! Most of the issues we have with foodborne illness in this country is from mishandling of food, either leaving perishable items set at room temperature too long, putting cooked meat back on a tray that had uncooked meat on it, or undercookng meat in the first place. Hell, if we could just get all consumers to cook their meat to the proper temperature there wouldn’t be much of an issue here. But as they say, common sense ain’t all that common.
    Frankly, I believe that if someone wants to tell farmers how to do a better job of raising their crops or livestock or packing plants how to do a better job of processing meat, they should have experience working on a farm or locker plant. And preferably self employeed, having spent a few thousand or hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to run a business as is required in agriculture these days. You’ll never appreciate fully, the challenges of agriculture until you have full equity in it. Perhaps a couple classes or even a degree in animal science or meat science would lend some credibility to a persons view point. I believe that even a deer hunter, who has skinned a buck and processed their own venison understands the challenges of trying to keep meat 100% safe and free of outside contaminants.
    Never the less, people with 0 experience and no formal education on a topic go out armed with a few facts from questionable sources, and proceed to run down somebody’s business that they have spent years building, and tear it down without fact checking both sides of the story objectively.
    You don’t have to feel sorry for the owner of BPI. That is your perogative. But the man figured out a way to safely reclaim 7,000,000 lbs of beef every week, to feed a hungry world. In my book, that is a noble cause and he should be regarded as a pioneer and innovator, the same as Thomas Edison or George Washington Carver.

    • ethicalplate says:

      Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments!

      I’m just not sure I think I could call Jamie Oliver and Jim Avila “liars” much as I have not called BPI “liars.” I am not well versed in the history of beef trimmings and use in the pet food industry. Can you say with absolute certainty that the trimmings that become LFTB were NOT used in the pet food industry at any time in the past? If so, then I will agree once someone has done the research and confirmed this. Until now, I cannot personally confirm or deny the use of beef trimmings in pet food, which is why I have not remarked on the subject. As for Jamie Oliver, I cannot see the difference between his “demonstration” and what modern advertising does on a daily basis and calls a “dramatization.” Is that Red Bull really going to give you wings? And I don’t know anyone who has access to an ammonium hydroxide gas puffer to do a demonstration for school kids. So what’s the next best thing, maybe some household ammonium cleaner?

      A lot of people remark how pink slime was a made up term that shouldn’t be used to describe it. But, lean finely textured beef was a made up term as well used to describe the end product. If labeling LFTB would have gone largely unnoticed, then why not do it? The point is LFTB is a unique product that was being added to what is traditionally thought of as ground beef only in the last decade or so. So why shouldn’t it be on the label like mechanically separated pork & chicken are?

      Regarding direct experience in agriculture as a prequisite to discuss agricultural issues; this is akin to saying you need to have run for office or otherwise participated as an employee of a campaign to discuss politics. Judge the rightness or wrongness of a position, not whether they have the “experience” to make such statements. It’s just a tactic to keep oppositional voices at bay and of lower status regardless of the veracity. Just like I won’t tell a parent refusing a childhood vaccination that “I’m the clinician, you’re just an ignorant mom, I know what’s best.” Instead, we will have a discussion about the vaccinations themselves and address questions and concerns from both sides. And I wouldn’t want to work in a meat processing plant. Being on a chicken processing line is a not a good job! Little kids don’t dream of growing up and processing chicken that whizzes by on the assembly line. And as I’ll show in my next post, there are PLENTY of real farmers who feel the way I do about the “modern” food industry.

      I think a lot of people would like more “equity” in their food production, but we’re being stopped at the door. Want to know what’s in the ground beef? Nope. Want to visit the hog barn and see what goes on? Nope, biosecurity. Want to discuss issues about agriculture and concerns you have? Nope, you don’t have an agricultural science degree. Want to get into farming? That’ll be $9,000 an acre. There are so many roadblocks to “equity” and the industry isn’t helping bring any of the roadblocks down because I don’t think they desire “equity.” Everyone can’t be a farmer or a meat processor or take classes at the local university, but people can be INVITED to be participants in bringing good food from farm to plate. Now that’s something to root for.

      Maybe Eldon Roth is an innovator as you say, but people thought Edison’s electric light bulb was a pretty good idea, pink slime, I’m not seeing the same reaction.

      I’m growing breathless asking this so many times, but how exactly is pink slime or LFTB feeding a hungry world? Is BPI exporting this product to some developed country at cost that I don’t know about? Do they have some export program that they haven’t mentioned? Do they do charitable pink slime drops from a helicopter? Would a third world country even want their product? Do the over 1 billion mostly food-insecure people in India want lean finely textured beef shipped to them so they can stop being hungry? Rather, I think BPI is meeting a demand that is perhaps a bit inflated. Americans eat about 1/6 of the meat in the world and we’re only 1/20 of the population. Some say we eat 60% more meat than Europeans do. So I don’t think BPI is feeding the hungry people of this world, I think they’re probably doing an awful lot of feeding overfed Americans.

      • Steve Arp says:

        You raise more issues than I have time to respond to, so a I’ll just address a few. Apparently you haven’t tried too hard to do some of things you mention above. I have taken a number of people, students and friends on tours of a major packing plant. They usually do this in very small groups, as they are not really set up to give tours. You need to operate in the right channels. If you walked up to one out of the blue, they would likely suspect you as an animal activist nut with ulterior motives. But I think many small lockers would give you a tour if you asked.
        If you approached swine facilities for a tour I think many of them would give you one. Remember, tours are not their specialty, but I work at a Research Farm and we tour hundreds of people every year. Our swine unit is an SPF facility, but they give many tours. They are shower in, shower out but they are available if scheduled ahead. Remember, to give tours they have to supply and keep enough clothes and shoes on hand to fit both men and women of many sizes. Basically they almost have to be a small clothing store and there is a small investment to keep that many clothes on hand, and then they have to launder the clothes and towels after you leave.
        You ask if we want to discuss agriculture issues and concerns. There is nothing we want more than to help the lay public understand what we do. Most farmers I know are happy to discuss issues. That is what we spend much of our time doing at our county fairs and state fairs when we take livestock to exhibit. What we don’t want is folks spreading misinformation and half truths. You cannot believe how many people I’ve talked to who have no understanding of what farmers do, but they have all heard crazy rumors, and with no other information to refute it, they believe it.
        If you want to get in to farming, go see your banker like every other farmer and ask for a loan. You probably won’t be able to purchase enough land, livestock or equipment to do it full time, but anybody can start part time if they have another job to subsidize the debt. There aren’t any farmers out there farming 1000 acres or more that didn’t build on what their ancestors started, or had enough money from another source (inheritance or side business), but anybody can start at a small level if they have the desire. And if land prices are too high, that is not the fault of the agriculture industry. They are not making any more land, and every year in this country our population increases by 2,000,000 people and consequently a couple million acres are developed to support this population increase. This is a supply and demand issue and it will only get worse.
        Lastly, there are agriculture programs available at junior colleges and universities of all sizes and nearly anybody can get a degree if they so desire.
        Regarding beef export, the US exports beef to countries all over the world. We do not consume all the beef produced in our own country. I don’t have specific numbers, but I do know that South Korea, Japan, China and Mexico are some of our major markets, but we sell to other countries as well. You could contact the USMEF (U. S. Meat Export Federation) and probably get some statistics. I do know that utilizing more of the carcass rather than throwing it away, made ground beef cheaper and more affordable to everybody, including countries that might not be able to afford to buy as much when the price goes up.
        And you ask if people in third world countries would rather go hungry before eating LFTB.
        That comment leaves me speechless!!

  3. ethicalplate says:

    Looks like the U.S. exported 8.7% of beef production in 2010, nearly all to Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Canada, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. These are all developed countries or newly industrialized. So, it seems to me that “feeding the world” only applies if you can afford it, not if you need it. I don’t fault anyone for selling their product to someone who has the means to buy it. But, things are a little different when we talk about food which is a necessity to living. And to my earlier question, is BPI exporting any of their product or does their product end up being exported? This is probably tough to answer. But if the usual proportion of LFTB in ground beef is 10-15% then the most that BPI could be contributing to the global beef supply would be 0.87% to 1.3% assuming ALL exported beef contained this proportion of LFTB which is obviously not true. So, hardly feeding the world.

    We’re so far off topic though.

    Back to pink slime or LFTB. What misinformation or half-truths or even lies have I perpetuated?

    I think what happens nowadays is there are 2 sides to every issue. Case in point: pink slime. And neither side seems willing to budge or acknowledge shared interests. So, it comes down to who has the power. And then you’ll do anything to hold on to that power so you can be the ones deciding what’s right and wrong. I don’t like that way of doing things. But, sadly it’s the way things are nowadays and excuse me, but the food corporations have the power right now. That’s what local/regional farm economies are all about, taking away the extreme consolidated power from corporations and giving it to the people and the farmers.

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