My View From The Country

Opinion: Pink Slime Issue Exposes Our Industry Traitors

There’s something magical about the words “pink slime,” so christened by a government microbiologist who characterized lean finely textured beef in an email to his colleagues some years ago. The tag has been fully adopted by media, and – perception being reality – the industry was suddenly playing catch up on the issue.

In the aftermath of the so-called “pink slime” controversy, more accurately known as lean, finely textured beef, we’ve seen some major retail outlets and restaurants electing not to offer the product. We’ve also seen three BPI plants temporarily shut, and there have even been a few school districts that have suspended such product purchases.

On the other hand, we’ve seen the USDA Secretary, academics, scientists and politicians whose state economies have been impacted by the shutdown come out in defense of the technology.

The thing that’s interesting is that no one is arguing the product’s safety – it’s a USDA-approved process and product. The recovery process also makes ground beef leaner (which is a health aspect), plus it lowers the overall cost of ground beef to consumers.

Still, there’s something magical about the words “pink slime,” so christened by a government microbiologist in an email to his colleagues some years ago. The characterization was borrowed for use in media reportage, which aptly fit the need for sensationalism, and – perception being reality – the industry was suddenly playing catch up on the issue.

I don’t believe anyone is surprised that the anti-meat activists jumped on this issue. And, it took no one by surprise that the anti-modern agriculture movement also jumped on the pink slime fiasco as validation that something is fundamentally wrong with how we produce our food. What maybe was a little surprising was that that the anti-modern agriculture movement within our industry also jumped on this opportunity. 

The whole episode raises the question about which principles are worth standing up for and which ones can, or should be, compromised in the pursuit of political or economic objectives.  This particular issue is one that goes beyond the natural, organic, anti-modern, anti-market activists.

Groups like the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) have been struggling, as a result of their losing efforts in remaking the GIPSA marketing rules, as well as mandatory country-of-origin labeling. So these groups, having discarded the goal of converting the majority of livestock industry to their positions, have concluded that topics such as pink slime fit their immediate fundraising needs.

In the end, groups like OCM have concluded that their cause is important enough to join with the enemies of our industry. And the results are sadly pretty predictable. As the saying goes “when you lie down with the dogs, you tend to get fleas.”

Just as the interests of the country should come above partisan politics, the beef industry’s best interest should come above petty internal differences. It’s no accident that hamburger is under attack; it’s the most price-sensitive and a major part of our market. If you hammer the hamburger, you hammer the industry, and these guys are patient and seem to love the idea of using our credibility to destroy ourselves.

The greatest irony is that those who want to destroy the modern packing industry are advocating increased production costs and regulations that will ensure the only ones who can compete are the biggest of players.

Discuss this Blog Entry 18

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

Troy, Can you describe what you mean by anti-modern ag movement please?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

Excellent commentary. The agitator propaganda needs to be rooted out and exposed for what it is in a more timely manner. I can't help but believe that interests contrary to our own as a world power are ultimately behind much of what we see today. It is not enough that decades later we find out details of foreign influence in the US from books such as J. Edgar Hoover's 1958 book "Masters of Deceit". Or from the recent book Dupes by Kengor, for example, that one of FDR's closest advisors was also close to the leadership in Soviet Russia to the extent that when Joe Stalin was starving to death some 2.3 million Ukrainians, FDR was referring to Stalin as Uncle Joe. Or, that the Soviets spent some $50 million in the US shaping American attitudes about the Vietnam War.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I'm in the business. I do not want to eat the trimmings and scrapings that have to be processed in this way. I especially don't want to eat meat that is so dirty that it has to be sprayed with amonia to kill the bacteria. None of the other ground meat you eat has to be sprayed with amonia.

Adam (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

Maybe they don't spray all ground beef with food grade ammonia but ALL ground beef must be cooked to 160 degrees to be safe which most consumers don't know and don't know the reasoning (why you can eat rare steaks but not hamburger!) Also, E. Coli is part of meat production and would be a non issue if the general public would cook their meat correctly. I have personally observed this process, the product, and have no problem eating it!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I love beef. I love the beef industry... I'm a long time proponent of the beef industry... but I gotta tell ya... the ground beef at walmart is something I will never buy because it just doesn't cook right or taste right. Actually it is like cardboard. Sorry. Just tellin it like it is. It may be safe and I guess if that extra 10 to 12 lbs of protein per carcass is needed, go for it, but I still won't buy it. Just preference is all.

Jim Sturrock (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

During the Civil War my grandmother's parent left Virginia for the lack of provissions at the age of 16 and 14. Her mother the younger of the two died somewhere in Kansas during child birth. Her father died from a mining accident in Gillett Wyo. She recounted how she helped her older brother skin a rat when I turned my nose up at the meal placed before me in the early 1940's. I like so me of us has been blessed with a silver spoon in our mouths. Wast not, wont not may be the difference between a boiled rat and hunger so be it, even if it's called pink slime.it is protien. Happy Days to all thanking God and modern teck-knowledge we have full stomachs!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I have been a cow/calf producer for most of my life. The processors are killing this business with hamburger of all things. First it was e. coli and now it's pink slime. John Q. Public wants a safe, economic product that doesn't have to be treated with ammonia. Nobody wants to pay hard earned cash for scraps and trimmings that should be put in pet food. It's a small wonder that people buy any ground beef at all. I won't eat store ground beef because I don't trust it. The processors will destroy this business to save a few cents.

Steve (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I am a beef producer and I fully support efforts to oppose the use of "pink slime" in the human food chain. If it's not appealingly edible on its own accord then it should remain with the animal food industry. The problem, as I see it, is the current beef industry has chosen profits over the best interests of the American consumer. As a result we face-and will continue to face-growing disillusionment from the American public with the wholesomeness of the American beef product. That's why I fully support COOL as well. It's time we, as an industry, got back to the basics.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

As a fifth generation cow-calf and stocker producer I stake my reputation on a quality product. I don't give a damn if its been done for 20 years. Its not Beef and I am appalled that the industry is fighting this.

Missouri beef (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I am a beef producer and I can honestly say that I do not ever want to eat something that has to be treated with amonia. I think just because the USDA says it is "safe" doesn't mean it is good for you. These kinds of methods and practices in the food industry need to be further examined. Quality should not be sacrificed for the all mighty dollar.

Calvin Smith again (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

Troy is at it again, just can't get over his hatred for the opposition. Anyone in the know knows who he is throwing rocks at. A water boy for the packers.

mike (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

it,s all about perception!!!give it to starving people or put it in dog feed. i don,t want to eat it or possom for that matter. you could let the beef checkoff promote it!!!!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 30, 2012

I am a beef producer, and fiercely defend attacks against the beef industry. However, I take a stand on byproducts being used to stretch hamburger. And, the fact that it requires an anti-bacterial to make it safe offends me to no end. If people want byproducts, they can buy potted meat - they KNOW what they are getting. When you pay over 3.00/pound for ground beef, then by golly it better be real ground beef - NOT ammonia infused, texture-less, centrifuged meat particles. Good protein? No doubt. But sell it to the pet food industry, which is HUGE. Do NO hide it in our ground beef.

on Mar 31, 2012

I am disappointed to see comments that are clearly uninformed made by people who say they are in the industry. I have toured the BPI plant and can say with personal knowledge that:

1. Scraps - These are the trimmings from the prep of other cuts. The BPI process captures the lean from these trimmings when it would be too costly for a worker with a knife to cut it out.

2. Process line - The trimmings come straight off of the cutting line and are not scraped from the floor or anywhere else as some say.

3. Finely textured - This isn't rocket science, it's just really finely ground to allow separation of the lean and the fat. Having toured BPI and a chicken processing plant, I can assure you the finely textured lean is more appealing than the finely ground/emulsified meat that goes into a chicken hot dog that "health conscious" mothers feed their children. In fact, in poultry processing, the last of the meat is separated from the carcasses in a similar way.

4. Bacteria - Salmonella and e coli are not created by the processor. They occur naturally and come to the plant on the cattle we produce. They were always in meat to some degree, including when we butchered steer at home on the farm like when I was growing up, but my grandparents and parents knew to properly prepare meats.

5. Public Perception - John Q public has lost any awareness of how to prepare foods, or largely do anything for themselves. Th use of common amonia is a sound public health process that protects the industry. The same John Q public that says that want a "safe" product without any responsibility also uses anti-bacterial hand soaps and cremes on everything you can imagine.

6. Cost - The biggest risk to the industry and producers of all sizes is having our product become too expenseive for the consumer to buy. Even today, the quality cuts like steaks are becoming beyond the reach of the average consumer. A friend of mine with 60 years in the cattle industry says that "beef will go the way of lobster" and will only be for the most special of occasions. Preventing the processor from capturing all of the value of the animal doesn't hurt the processor, it reduces the value that they can pay producers.

I agree completely that it is the enemies within the industry (and candidly, the uninformed and thoughtless too) that we need to worry about.

To be clear, I do not work for or have any connection with BPI. I grew up in a cattle feeding family, and was a member of my university meats judging and livestock judging teams.

on Apr 1, 2012

Just to finish my post. Anyone who has worked in the retail food industry knows how personal food is to people. We have a right to decide what goes in our mouths. Our sense of disgust is what guides our choices and it develops throughout our lifetime and varies from culture to culture. I am sure that science would agree that eating raw eyeballs of a seal is not harmful and an Eskimo sees it as a treat but average Americans do not want to eat it. We do ourselves no service to try to make people eat things that disgust them. To inform them that it saves them a penny per pound does not sway anyone.
As a beef producer myself, I would like to see more people eat more beef, not turned off by products like this. I see the greed of the packers, backed by sound science, reducing demand for my product and I am sick of it!
As a consumer, I do not want ANY ammonia in my food, that is what I clean my floor with.
Add this to the list of hormones, low level feeding of anti-biotics, and steroids used in raising beef that cause some of my customers who buy locker beef from me to not eat any beef from the store if they run out of locker beef. Maybe Beef Magazine should change their name to Meat Packer Magazine.

Jake (not verified)
on May 3, 2013

Well then I sure hope that you have stopped eating cheese, peanut butter, potato chips and a whole slew of foods that use ammonia in some phase of production. Also, way to throw your neighbors under the bus with your comments on growth promotant implants and antibiotic use.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2012

The customer is king and the customer is becoming more demanding for quality, just as they are in the rest of the wealthy, developed world. I am a farmer and a former beef producer and part owner of some restaurants on the east coast. We are hurting ourselves when we jump to the defense of Finely Textured Beef Product and industrial based food products. It isn't outlawed, so you can eat it if you choose to do so. But, this is not what consumers think they are eating when they eat beef. We should do more listening to our customers and less defensive hollering.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 5, 2012

We do listen to our customers. They are saying that they want cheap, safe food. If you think that we haven't been listening to them then perhaps you need to learn more about the industry you say you are in. Most of these posts do not sound like they come from people involved in beef production, they sound like they are coming from outsiders who wish to seem informed to the readers of this site. The American public has been led astray for many years by self-proclaimed experts, which is what I see happening here. If this continues then the entire agriculture industry is in jeopardy. Real producers and real experts need to take a more active stand against these anti-agriculture groups that do nothing to help the consumers, the economy, or this country. We are heading down a dangerous road where agriculture is controlled and manipulated by uninformed, ignorant, non-agriculture government officials and consumers. These people have no idea what is involved to produce food, or about our way of life. I personally want my children to grow as I did, farming without the involvement of morons who wish to put me out of business and take the food from my family's mouths, dictating to me about what I should/have to do when they have never spent a day on a farm in their lives.

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As a fulltime rancher, opinion contribur Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.

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Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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