On Friday, Chellie Pingree, House Democrat from Maine, introduced a bill that would require labeling of the beef filler ingredient “lean finely textured beef (LFTB), now commonly known as “pink slime.” To understand the nature of this beast, let’s start with the story of its origins:
Once upon a time, back in 2001, an evil mad scientist in South Dakota by the name of Beef Products Inc., in the interest of expanding its profits, decided to use fatty beef trimmings—scraps that would normally go to waste or to pet food—in their products for human consumption. Their plan was brilliant; nothing would go to waste, the company would make more profit, and best of all, consumers wouldn’t know the difference! The only problem was that those meat scraps were vulnerable to contamination by E. coli, so the evil mad scientists had to go back to work and soon discovered a way to remove E. coli as well as salmonella from its hamburgers: treating the meat with ammonia. The USDA approved the process, and thus the unappetizing bits of chemically treated cartilage and scrap meat began to creep into our food. USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein was disgusted by the decision; he made reference to the processed product in a private email that soon went public, coining the term “pink slime. ” Thus the beast was born, and developed into the stealthy monster we food-eaters despise.
Fast forward to 2007, and pink slime gets the government stamp of approval to become a regular ingredient in fast-food chain recipes--unfortunate news for the human race. Worst of all, the ammonia treatment was deemed so successful for removing bacteria that routine inspection of the meat wasn’t deemed necessary.
From 2008 to present day, a variety of modern-day muckrakers have shed light on “pink slime” and the controversial ammonia-processing method. Food Inc. in 2008 exposed the slime in a big way to the United States public, and national headlines started coming up in 2009 calling the safety of the product into question. By 2011 chef and host of the ABC program Jamie’s Food Revolution introduced us to a new form of the monster—the chicken breed of pink slime. Clips from Oliver’s TV show went viral on Youtube and the blogosphere. The public outrage with this beast has continued to spread, leading McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell to decide to drop pink slime from their burgers in January of this year. In March, schools in Washington D.C., followed by others, decided to remove pink slime from kids’ lunches, and several large grocery store chains decided to take the products off their shelves.
But the battle rages on, and pink slime is not alone. The American Meat Institute continues to speak out on behalf of the slime, defending its honor. The poor monster has been wrongly attacked, Republican Iowa Governor Terry Branstad argues: it has been “smeared with false slurs, lies and distortions that cause job eliminations.” He points out the “science, data and facts that support this as a healthy and safe product.” His argument might be a little weak though, considering an image of the pink slime alone is enough to deter most consumers from eating it. Beef Products Inc. announced on March 27 that it plans to fight back with its own “educational ad campaign.” I’m not sure how much that will help their case, but let them try. . . Perhaps pink slime is “safe” to consume, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. Besides, shouldn’t consumers have a right to know what they’re eating? Enough consumers have seen or heard about the beef filler to want it destroyed, and it’s doubtful that any amount of “educational” ads can change their minds.
Representative Pingree’s bill is only asking for labeling. "Consumers have made it pretty clear they don't want this stuff in their food," Pingree said in a statement. "If a product contains connective tissue and beef scraps and has been treated with ammonia, you ought to be able to know that when you pick it up in the grocery store." Why not just slap a label on the slime monster so people know where to stab it?