By Gene Hall
Pink slime—it sounds like one of those really bad horror movies from the 1950s, when a blob of pinkish protoplasm rolls across the landscape, devouring the denizens of an unfortunate small town. Even more unfortunately, it’s become a term suggesting danger in what is a perfectly safe product in some of our meat supply.
The use of the term “pink slime” is being applied by the media and full-time agitators to describe Lean Finely-Textured Beef (LFTB). Recent reports and accusations hint that this product is little more than pet food diverted to the human food chain. There is no truth to any of this.
LFTBs are lean meat, separated from fat by a process not unlike that used to separate milk from heavier cream. The result of all this is a hamburger-like product, except that it is ground into smaller particles and then added to other ground beef.
Another part of this hit job refers to the use of ammonia hydroxide, ammonia and water, which is a naturally occurring compound. Using a chemical name makes it sound scary, but this product is a microbial inhibitor, actually making the meat safer. It’s been used in all sorts of food products, including dairy, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, beverages like sports drinks and beer, and meats. Some organic beef processing allows for the use of ammonia compounds and some do. That doesn’t make it any less safe, either.
The company that produces a lot of the perfectly safe LFTBs is Beef Products Inc. (BPI). They have produced an online document detailing seven myths about LFTBs.
I have room for three of those myths here:
- Myth: “Boneless lean beef trimmings” or “lean finely textured beef,” which have recently been called “pink slime,” are just “fillers” and not beef at all.
- Fact: As their real names suggest, boneless lean beef trimmings are 100% USDA inspected beef. There’s always some meat that is trimmed with the fat. It is this meat that becomes boneless lean beef trimmings. When you compare the nutrition analysis of this lean beef with 90% lean/10% fat ground beef, they are virtually identical. That’s because boneless lean beef trim is beef—period.
- Myth: Ground beef produced with boneless lean beef trimmings is less nutritious than other ground beef.
- Fact: A side-by-side comparison of nutrition labels for 90% lean/10% fat ground beef demonstrates this lean beef has substantially identical nutritional value as 90% lean ground beef. Lean ground beef is low in fat and is a good or excellent source of 10 essential nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins.
- Myth: Boneless lean beef trimmings are produced from inedible meat.
- Fact: Boneless lean beef trimmings are 100% edible meat. These trimmings are simply the lean beef removed from the meat and fat that is trimmed away when beef is cut into steaks and roasts.
The gist of many news reports, particularly the one on ABC News, seems to suggest that inedible meat has been transformed into something edible in the laboratory. There is not any way to make the inedible edible. Lean Finely-Textured Beef is beef. And that’s the truth.