Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pink Slime is gone, and so are thousands of workers

Up until recently, we've all been fine eating lean finely textured beef (LFTB). Dubbed as "pink slime" in 2002 by Gerald Zirnstein, then a USDA scientist, we've been eating it for years with no reported cases of foodborne illness due to its consumption. In fact, the USDA says it's safe.

Everything changed earlier this year. It's not that someone got sick or there was an outbreak of E.coli, which LFTB was created to combat. Rather, ABC News did a series of reports on pink slime (it gets better ratings than LFTB), and Change.org circulated a petition calling for its ban in school lunches that over a quarter of a million people signed.

Scientists make their case for both sides. As I mentioned, the USDA says it's fine. In addition, a nutritionist from The Center for Science in the Public Interest and a food policy writer noted that it's one of several chemicals routinely added to industrially-produced meat in the United States, and called it "unappetizing, but perhaps not more so than other things that are routinely part of a hamburger." Not exactly an endorsement, but not an indictment, either.

Anyway, all the well-intentioned people against LFTB must be very happy now. As a recent Supermarket News story reported, "The safety of the ingredient was never called into question, but links and conversations from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites helped build consumer outrage, and most major supermarket chains quickly distanced themselves from the controversy."

In other words, grocery stores aren't carrying it, which means consumers won't be buying it anymore. Not sure that's going to change anyone's life, but wait...

AFA Foods in King of Prussia, PA, which produces more than 500 million pounds of ground beef per year, has filed for bankruptcy, citing the impact of the pink slime controversy. And Beef Products Inc., another supplier of the product, closed facilities in Iowa, Kansas and Texas last week. That's thousands of people out of work.

So, we're free of pink slime, apparently not because it's a danger to our health, but because some people think it's disgusting. I'm obviously not an expert on this issue, and I may be missing some important points, but the end result just rubs me the wrong way.

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