Pink slime causes unnecessary outrage

Lyndsie Yamrus, Assistant Opinion Editor

When I think of a hamburger, I think of a patty made of ground beef- not pink slime. Pink slime, otherwise known as “Lean, Finely Textured Beef”, has been making headlines for a few months now, and meat eaters aren’t happy.

The United States Department of Agriculture explains that Lean, Finely Textured Beef, or LFTB, is a meat product derived from a process that separates beef trimmings and fat pieces in order to decrease the overall fat content of the meat. LFTB is essentially the leftover scraps that cannot sell alone. These trimmings undergo a highly technical separating process to separate the fat from the perfectly healthy beef that would otherwise go to waste if the leftovers were not centrifuged. Many ask why the products are not labeled as being LFTB. There is no need, because the meat is 100% beef. No specific ingredient needs to be singled out.

The trimmings contain ammonia- a compound commonly associated with cleaning products that health officials approved for food since 1974 (close to 40 years), according to the American Meat Institute. The ammonia is mixed with water to form ammonium hydroxide, which is sprayed onto the beef trimmings in order to balance acidity and reduce pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella.

As soon as the news leaked out that “pink slime” can be found in 70% of the US supply of ground beef, including school, grocery store, McDonald’s and Taco Bell beef, a heated outrage quickly broke out, and many of the distributors listed previously have even gone as far as to rip the beef from their supplies and discontinue their use. Locally, AFA Foods, Inc. of King of Prussia, PA recently filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection due to the unanticipated slime crisis. Sales plummeted due to the high decrease of beef purchases.

The U.S. population swiftly pounced on the meat industry with grossed-out cries of disapproval, questioning why chemicals are being put into their beef.

There was even more discontent when Governors Terry Branstad of Iowa, Rick Perry of Texas and Sam Brownback of Kansas defended the slime after touring the Beef Products Inc. plant in South Dakota, who have been using ammonium hydroxide to ensure safety for about 30 years. All three governors believe that the product has been criticized unfairly and incorrectly, emphasizing that the company produces quality, safe and nutritious beef. The governors and food industry workers explained that consumers appear to have an issue with the bacteria-reducing process because of its “yuck” factor. Ammonia coated meat does not sound appetizing. And of course, when someone gives the beef a name like “pink slime,” most individuals are not going to be very accepting.

It is natural for people to be skeptical about what goes on in the food industry. The business is highly complex and challenging, constantly seeking the most productive and reliable ways to yield enough food for the world that is both safe and able to sell at an economically fair price.

Truth is, Beef Products, Inc. is not out to poison its consumers. It is attempting to offer safe, high-quality beef.

Since 2001, the USDA and FDA have collectively deemed the use of ammonium hydroxide as a safe method to destroy bacteria that would otherwise make individuals sick in the event that undercooked meat was consumed, according to the American Meat Institute. USDA data has even found that E. coli incidences have declined significantly over the past decade, with the amount of positive tests for E. coli in ground beef dropping 55 percent from 2000 to 2010.

The ammonium hydroxide used to kill bacteria is also not the same as the common house-hold cleaner. Ammonia is found naturally in beef, humans and virtually all food, according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. Ammonia is important in synthesizing proteins, regulating the body’s nitrogen cycle and maintaining pH levels. Ammonium hydroxide is also found in cheese, baking and chocolate products like pudding. The amount used is very small- measured in parts per million. When compliant with USDA standards, the use of this compound is beneficial. The majority of food-processing agencies in other countries, like the FDA, have approved the use of food grade ammonium hydroxide as well.

In reality, LFTB is not new, sneaky or health threatening. And it is certainly not slime. The public has successfully created an overly-dramatic argument over something that appears outrageous and horrifying, yet is completely inaccurate and misunderstood. Pictures used to support the pink slime claims are even controversial, ranging from goo being pumped out of a machine to photos of mechanically separated chicken.

More importantly, the Texas, Kansas and Iowa beef plants have all been affected, putting hundreds of individuals out of work- all over some silly misunderstanding that would take five minutes to research and understand.