Ground Beef Processor Goes Bankrupt in Response to Pink Slime Backlash

The recent media criticism attributed to “pink slime” is starting to show a definite effect upon the meat industry. Pink slime is technically processed meat filler, composed of bits of fatty meat left over on the bone, then spun to be made lean and treated with ammonia to purge potential bacteria. Known as lean beef trimmings, the backlash against it has already caused Beef Products Inc to cease production at several of their plants and major grocers such as Safeway to ban the product from their stores.

Now ground beef processor AFA Foods is filing for bankruptcy protection as a result of the critical response to have pink slime banned, despite the protests of those who say the product is completely safe to eat. AFA Foods is one of the country’s largest ground beef processors, responsible for producing over 500 million pounds of ground beef per year, and employing about 850 people full-time.

The implications of pink slime on the meat industry may be pretty severe, according to Jeremy Russell of the National Meat Association. “This is certainly going to have an economic impact on the industry”, affecting cattle ranchers, meat processors and thousands of jobs. With ground beef making up a large part of the overall meat market, prices will almost definitely increase.

Many industry leaders and politicians have vocalized their support of lean beef trimmings. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said, “This to me is outrageous. I want to expose the people who are behind this. I don’t think Americans need to be misled by a smear campaign.”

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Pink Slime Controversy Continues to Build, Manufacturers Fight Back

By now the ground beef filler product known as “pink slime” has become the newest cause for activists to rally around, particularly in reference to the controversial deal its parent company, Beef Products Inc. made with the US Department of Agriculture in regards to school lunch. However, despite all the attention pink slime has received from the media in recent weeks, very few facts about the actual content of these lean beef trimmings are known.

“lean finely textured beef” is a low-cost ingredient that is made from fatty bits of meat that are left over from the more choice cuts. These bits of meat are heated and spun to remove the excess fat, then compressed into blocks to be used in ground meat. Somewhere during this process the trimmings are given a ‘puff’ of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill harmful pathogens such as E. Coli and salmonella. While official numbers are still not available, it is believed to be in about half of all ground beef meat and burgers in the United States.

The term ‘pink slime’ was originally coined in 2009 by a federal microbiologist in a New York Times report. Since then some celebrities have rallied against it, and it broke headlines when McDonald’s and other fast food chains were pressured to remove the trimmings from their products. Most recently pink slime has been brought up due to the fact that school lunches will serve meat with lean beef trimmings mixed in.

A compromise was reached this week, and on Thursday the USDA will make an official announcement about how it will proceed with lean beef trimmings and school lunches. Unofficially, they are expected to offer schools a choice in the ground beef they purchase, ranging from 95% lean beef patties containing the product, or less lean bulk ground beef without it.

Despite the compromise, lean beef trimmings continue to be a national target throughout blogs, social media and in petitions. A recent petition requesting pink slime to be removed from school lunches garnered over 200,000 signatures. Food policy expert Marion Nestle noted that the unappetizing nickname may have made it easier for the food movement to attack lean beef trimmings. “A lot of people have been writing about it. Therefore, more people know about it, therefore more people are queasy about it, particularly when you start thinking about how this stuff turns up in school lunches.”

The truth of the matter is, this product has been on the market for years, and federal regulators believe that it meets food safety standards. Due to recent pressure the USDA has opted to give schools a choice in meat, in order to be transparent in its processes; however they fully believe that the ammonia treatment is safe.

Beef Products Inc. has begun to fight back, defending its product by saying that it’s 100 percent lean beef, and has been approved by numerous experts in the field. The company even launched a new website,, aiming to correct some common misconceptions about the product. The National Meat Association has also gotten involved, denying that the scraps of meat are ‘inedible’ and bringing to light that ammonium hydroxide is used in numerous other products including baked goods, puddings and other processed foods.

NMA CEO, Barry Carpenter, claims that the safety of the product isn’t the issue, only the public perception to it. Various campaigns also highlight that lean beef trimmings help to keep meat prices down, and contribute to a more sustainable world by making use of meat that would be tossed away.

While the product may be entirely safe for consumption, the cause for concern is mostly over the industrialized process involved in obtaining it, and the fact that the true source of this product has been kept in the dark for so many years. As many concerned parents have noted, if lean beef trimmings aren’t good enough for fast food restaurants to serve, then why should they be a staple in school lunches?

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Pink Slime Begins School Lunch Invasion

Pink slime is a meat-like substance composed of connective tissue and beef scraps mechanically removed from the bone, and normally meant for dog food. Pink slime made news earlier this year when fast food restaurants like McDonald’s rejected the substance after mounting pressure and poor publicity for the processed substance. Pink slime is making a dramatic comeback however, in school lunch.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of pink slime to be served in school lunch. Pink slime has been known to be used in processed chicken nuggets, as well as hamburger patties. The product is officially termed “Lean Beef Trimming”, and is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill salmonella, E. coli and other pathogens. Microbiologist at the Food Safety Inspection Service, Carl Custer, said “we looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent to ground beef. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Although these trimmings have been identified as a high risk product, pressure from President George H. W. Bush’s administration forced scientists in D.C. to approve the substance with minimal safety approval, according to microbiologist Gerald Zernstein. One of the main concerns with the ammonium hydroxide treatment is that it can be harmful to eat and can potentially turn into ammonium nitrate, a compound used to make bombs. However the USDA stands by its initial assessment that all of its ground beef purchases meet the highest standard for food safety.

In 2009, The New York Times tested lean beef trimming in schools across the country and found that E. coli and salmonella still persisted in some batches of meat, despite the added ammonia. In particular, two contaminated batches of 27,000 pounds of meat were uncovered.

School lunch has recently undergone several changes and compromises in their standards and guidelines. Newer standards call for more whole grains and produce, and less sodium and fat in lunches. This step was still compromised as pizza and French fries remained on lunch menus, with tomato paste and potatoes from each dish counting as vegetables. While the long term effects of these changes will take time to decipher, a recent report revealed that over one third of high school students eat vegetables less than once a day, far below the recommended level of intake for a healthy lifestyle.

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