Controversy over ‘pink slime’ in the US

Photo: B+LNZ

A controversy blew up in the US in March and April about the use of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) – also pejoratively coined as ‘pink slime’ – in manufactured ground beef.

Lean, finely-textured beef (LFTB) is lean beef that is separated in a manufacturing process from fatty beef trimmings, to reduce wastage. The process involves treating the LFTB with small amounts of ammonium hydroxide gas or citric acid to eliminate any harmful bacteria present.

The process has been approved as safe by the United States Department of Agriculture and it has been reported that over 70 percent of ground beef used in the US is believed to have incorporated LFTB as an ingredient.

However, a range of media commentators, including ABC News and British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, have criticised the practice. Despite statements by the USDA and meat industry bodies asserting that LFTB is safe for consumption, a number of major retailers and restaurant chains –  including McDonald’s and Burger King – have recently decided not to use LFTB, as a result of considerable negative publicity about the product.

As a result of the controversy, the major producer of LFTB, Beef Products Inc, announced that it is closing down three of its four processing plants. The American Meat Institute estimates that without LFTB, the industry would need 1.5 million additional head of cattle to make up the difference in beef supply.

LFTB is not used in New Zealand, as the leaner, pasture-raised New Zealand beef does not produce the high fat trimmings that provide the raw ingredient for LFTB, the MIA says.

Published in Food NZ (June/July 2012).

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