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Published April 02, 2012, 09:46 AM

Unfairly smeared by 'pink slime'?

Officials with two area cattle producer organizations say recent media attention on so-called “pink slime” in beef has been unbalanced and that consumers need to focus on reliable scientific evidence.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Officials with two area cattle producer organizations say recent media attention on so-called “pink slime” in beef has been unbalanced and that consumers need to focus on reliable scientific evidence.

“This name-calling approach isn’t good for anyone. It’s unfortunate. There needs to be more public education,” says Dale Lueck, an Aitkin, Minn., cattleman and a spokesman for the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

In North Dakota, many cattle producers are upset by the controversy, which unfairly calls into question the safety of beef, says Julie Ellingson, executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

“It does hurt beef’s standing with consumers,” she says of the controversy.

Federal regulators say the product, which the industry calls “lean, finely textured beef,” meets food safety standards. According to the Associated Press, the ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat leftover from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria.

Critics say the product is unappetizing, and there are concerns — widely disseminated by the news media and in social media — about whether the product is safe. That’s led a number of retailers to quit selling items that contain the product. It’s also led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow school districts to quit using it.

The controversy has caused Beef Products Inc., which makes the product, to close three of its four plants. The plant in South Sioux City, Neb., continues operations.

Beef Products Inc. has created a website, www.beefisbeef.com, to tell its side of the story.

Bob Montross, a Desmet, S.D., farmer and cattle producer, tells Agweek that he’ “toured the plant (in Nebraska) personally and it’s a perfectly safe product.” He says the plant is modern and committed to food safety.

Lueck and Ellingson say their respective groups haven’t taken an official stand on the controversy.

But consumers need to make decisions on “science-based information,” not on news media reports that aren’t necessarily accurate, Ellingson says.

Cattle producers and the beef industry in general take food safety very seriously, she says.

Ellingson says her organization hasn’t received any questions from consumers about the product, though a school food-service provider did ask for more information about it.

Lueck says he’s not aware of any consumers who have complained to his group about the product.

He says it’s common for some food or food product to receive widespread negative coverage in the news media.

“It’s our turn in the barrel this time,” he says.

The real issue is providing consumers with “safe, wholesome food at an affordable price,” which the beef industry is doing, Lueck says.

“We have nothing to hide or be ashamed of,” he says.

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