Remember the dreaded “pink slime” video from 2012? There it was, some indescribable pink paste extruding through a machine – was it strawberry ice cream? A new type of Play-Doh?
Nope, pink slime was basically the meat industry equivalent of the trimmings or scraps that are normally swept up and tossed in the trash, or into pet food – a collection of bits collected from the meat production process that is transformed into a filmy, translucent substance using a centrifuge, which is then treated with ammonia hydroxide gas and added to commercial ground beef, usually in fast food or school cafeterias.
The brief video caused mass revulsion from U.S. consumers and a PR disaster for the meat industry: celebrity chefs were up in arms, McDonald’s dropped the filler from its products, and an Iowa state senator even accused viewers of being duped by a vegetarian plot to put meat industry employees out of work.
But wait – what if we were wrong? What if that wasn’t actually pink slime, or even the preferred industrial euphemism, “lean finely-textured beef” (LTFI)?
Well, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), that slimy pink goo is actually ground beef.
In another case of big business getting the best of the legitimate concerns of consumers, South Dakota pink slime purveyors Beef Products Inc (BPI) have received the stamp of approval from the USDA to allow it to call the repulsive goo “ground beef.”
The move to reclassify the slime from “lean finely textured beef” to “ground beef” was made in December, but also comes after a years-long effort by the industry to combat the fallout from the pink slime scandal – which resulted in a defamation lawsuit by BPI against ABC News that was settled in 2017 for about $177 million, the highest-ever sum in such a corporate lawsuit.
In the story, which relied on data from former USDA officials, ABC correspondent Jim Avila said:
“Beef trimmings that were once used only in dog food and cooking oil, are now sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat, and then added to most ground beef as a cheaper filler.”
— Variety (@Variety) June 28, 2017
After the settlement was reached, beef purveyors then set about convincing the ace regulators at the USDA.
BPI vice president of engineering Nick Ross told Beef Magazine:
“We approached USDA about the possibility of reclassifying our product. It was an extensive review that took well over six months and included consumer reviews, nutritional panels, tours of the plant where agency folks could get a first-hand look at the process and understand what we are doing at BPI.”
Since 2017, the USDA has been headed by Secretary of Agriculture George “Sonny” Perdue III, a former Georgia governor with a stake in the beef industry who has been dogged by corruption allegations throughout his political career and whom critics see as “more interested in rewarding industry and agriculture than in protecting the public health.”
The USDA has since been transformed into an industry vessel that rubber stamps Big Food and Big Agriculture demands, enshrining them into law. Karen Perry Stillerman, senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Food and Environment Program, told the Project On Government Oversight:
“Secretary Perdue seems to have installed an extra-large revolving door to usher in lobbyists and executives from giant corporations.”
And – surprise, surprise – the USDA found that the slime met its “regulatory definition of ground beef” under the Code of Federal Regulations.
What does this mean for consumers? Well, not much.
Talk of big government notwithstanding, restaurants and companies were never forced to tell consumers when they were consuming the slime formerly known as lean finely-textured beef.
And technically, pink slime is still a form of beef, just like many dog food products are. As Food and Wine Magazine wrote:
“So previously, you may have been buying ground beef with added LFTI you didn’t know about; now, you’re buying ground beef with added ground beef, which you won’t know about. Frankly, if you’ve made up your mind about what BPI produces, the name change probably won’t change your mind as well.”
We wouldn’t be surprised if soon, Kraft singles and Velveeta were promoted from pasteurized processed cheese products to semi-soft cheeses.