No, despite what you think, this is not the Pope's collection of
little boys' penises ...
Many regular eaters of beef, pink-slimed or not, are planting within
themselves the seeds of colon cancer.
And, perhaps to a lesser extent, so are eaters of other red meat.
Time, as they say, will tell.
But you all-you-can-eaters might want to stock up on colostomy bags in
" ‘Pink slime’ outrage goes viral in stunning display of social
By Dina ElBoghdady
April 20, 2012
FOR THE BETTER PART of two decades, before it was dubbed “pink slime,”
this beef byproduct was nothing more than a mild-mannered staple in
fast food burgers, tacos in school lunches and ground beef stocked in
Federal regulators never sounded safety concerns about it. No one
directly linked it to foodborne illnesses or outbreaks. In fact, many
food safety activists praised it as a technological marvel in the
dangerous world of raw meat.
That’s why federal officials and the family-owned company that makes
this product were slack-jawed when a public backlash erupted last
month against what the industry calls “lean finely textured beef.”
None of the usual suspects caused the uproar, even though a few had
tried. Instead, the unlikely source was a Texas mom eager to improve
school food. Early in March, from her kitchen in a leafy Houston
neighborhood, Bettina Elias Siegel sounded off on her blog, The Lunch
Tray. She urged readers to “put a stop to pink slime” in school
lunches and hastily launched an online petition before taking off for
the day’s errands.
Eight days later, the signatures topped 200,000.
“I think you all know that I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was
about to unleash,” Siegel wrote on her blog.
People, it seems, who for years gobbled down “lean finely textured
beef” sat upright when they saw “pink slime.”
The moniker went viral. The “yuck” factor repulsed consumers.
Supermarket chains – including Safeway, Kroger and Food Lion –
abandoned the product. Wendy’s took out newspaper ads assuring
customers that it never has used the stuff. Even the plodding
government bureaucracy leaped into action, granting schools the choice
to stop using it in lunches next year. Systems big and small,
including public schools in Montgomery and Fairfax counties, opted
The episode damaged the fortunes of Beef Products Inc., the producer
in South Dakota, forcing it to suspend operations in three of its four
plants, though it pledged to keep paying its workers for now. A meat
processor in Pennsylvania, AFA Foods, filed for bankruptcy protection
this month, citing reduced demand for lean beef as a factor.
Meanwhile, ground beef sales in March hit a 10-year low for the month,
just as the grilling season was about to take off.
The dramatic fallout signals yet again the power of social media to
change the way political actors and businesses respond to public
pressure, leaving them all vulnerable — for better or worse — to
reputational slights. Some consumer groups watched the events unfold
with a mix of admiration, jealousy and perhaps remorse.
“It’s substantively not the most critical health issue, yet it was
framed in such a way that the public outcry actually changed food
policy in a matter of weeks,” said Sarah Klein, a lawyer at the Center
for Science in the Public Interest. “If we could figure out the
formula and apply it to serious public health issues, that would be
The yuck factor
The phrase — pink slime — was born in a 2002 e-mail.
Gerald Zirnstein, a USDA microbiologist at the time, came up with it
in an exchange with his colleagues. Seven years later, the e-mail
emerged in a New York Times article that questioned the product’s
Then nothing much, until last April.
That’s when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver thrust pink slime back into
the spotlight on his nationally televised show, “Food Revolution.”
Before a live audience, Oliver took a chunk of beef trimming and
demonstrated his take on how the product is made: He spun the trimming
in a washing machine, doused it in kitchen cabinet ammonia and then a
splash of water.
Drain and mince. The audience gasped.
“We’re taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest form for
dogs, and after this process we give it to humans,” Oliver told them.
McDonald’s, for one, stopped using it soon after.
Siegel, a Harvard-educated advertising lawyer turned blogger and
freelance writer, had flagged readers to the New York Times article as
well as Oliver’s show, though she concluded that his demonstration was
over the top.
Fast forward to last month, when Siegel spotted a story in
TheDaily.com that rehashed the issue. She realized that USDA had not
abandoned pink slime in school lunches. She fired off the petition.
The next day ABC News launched a series on pink slime, and the story
really took off. “Pink slime” shot up as one of the most popular
search terms on the Internet. By day six, Siegel was operating on
caffeine and adrenaline to keep up. (“I am one jittery, freaked out
blogger,” she wrote.) Nine days into it, USDA announced its school
Along the way, when Siegel was feeling especially overwhelmed, Oliver
re-emerged with a plug for her petition.
“I happened to glance at Tweetdeck and saw a tweet from Jamie saying
‘WELL DONE@thelunchtray!’ and sharing the petition with his 2 million-
plus followers,” Siegel said in an interview. “I felt like the cavalry
And now they’ve reached the halls of Congress. Lawmakers are demanding
that the USDA stop schools from serving pink slime in lunches. They
want companies to start labeling meat that contains the product, and
some firms voluntarily agreed to do so.
‘Dude, it’s beef’
Eldon Roth, BPI’s founder, took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street
Journal to decry the “campaign of lies and deceit” waged against his
company. But he’s declined to comment for this article or any other.
Besides, Roth is not so smooth in interviews, his friend David Theno
“Public speaking is not his forte. He’s kind of a country boy,” said
Theno, a food safety consultant credited with revamping Jack in the
Box after the chain’s undercooked hamburgers killed three children in
the early 1990s. Theno is now advising BPI. “He’s brilliant, but he’s
not the kind of guy in today’s five-second sound-bite world that you
put on camera.”
With a high school degree, Roth built a refrigeration business in 1981
that catered to meat companies. A decade later, BPI was the first to
commercially sell lean finely textured ground beef using a technique
of his devising that separated the meat from fatty trimmings.
Roth, who worked in milk and ice cream factories early in his career,
borrowed heavily from dairy plant technology when he created a process
to reclaim the bits of beef left clinging to the trimmings after a cow
carcass is cut up to make steak.
BPI buys the refrigerated trimmings from slaughterhouses. It grinds
them, warms them to slightly below the body temperature of a live cow,
and then spins them at high speeds to cull the beef. The lean meat is
then flash-frozen and sold to meat processors, enabling those firms to
meet increased demand for lower fat grinds.
The company began using ammonia gas in 2001, with the USDA’s blessing.
When the gas hits the water in the meat, it turns to ammonium
hydroxide and kills bacteria, the firm said. Through the years, some
BPI critics balked at the safety claims and dismissed the meat as a
salvage product that does not meet the government’s definition of
The New York Times report found that USDA initially did not test BPI’s
beef, figuring the ammonia made it pathogen-free. Federal school lunch
officials tested it anyway, found E. coli and salmonella numerous
times between 2005 and 2009, and pulled it before it was served.
But when the most recent controversy erupted, many rallied to the
USDA officials vouched for BPI’s meat. They said it has never been
directly linked to illnesses or outbreaks since the government started
testing it in December 2009. Of 7,000 samples that BPI provided to
USDA school lunch officials in the past two years, none has tested
positive for Salmonella or a deadly strain of E. coli, a government
Bill Marler, a Seattle lawyer who has built a business out of suing
meat companies, said BPI’s lean beef is safe enough. “It’s not any
more or less dangerous than anything else in hamburger,” Marler said.
Nancy Donley’s only child died from an E. coli infection. Yet the
consumer activist also stands by the beef product. “It just sounds
gross to people, but at the end of the day it’s beef,” she said.
“Nothing is 100 percent safe ... but this product is misunderstood.”
Ammonia, BPI’s defenders point out, is a naturally occurring chemical
in the body that’s added to other foods. It’s used as a leavening
agent in crackers, for instance. Very early in the cheese-making
process, a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide can be added to reduce
acidity or encourage cultures to grow.
The American Meat Institute estimates that if the lean finely textured
beef disappears, it would take another 1.5 million more cattle per
year to offset the loss. Even before the pink slime controversy, the
meat industry was struggling. Ground beef sales, including trimmings,
fell 11 percent last month to 38 million pounds, a 10-year low for
that month, according to a
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