A Look at the Continuing Pink Slime Debate

Pink Slime, or lean finely textured beef (LFTB), gained attention last spring. It is made by centrifuging slightly heated fatty beef trimming to separate lean meat bits and then treating the meat with ammoniated product used to reduce food-borne illness. Simply put, the process turns waste into hamburger meat Americans eat on a daily basis. Internal emails have recently surfaced that indicate that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not quite know what to do as they seem split between the “ick factor,” considering it mildly unsafe, and accepting it as a natural part of the commodification of the food industry.

The process separates lean meat bits from fatty trimmings. This turns waste into foods product. This food product must be exposed to ammonia gas in order to reduce possible pathogens in the meat. Some of the emails describe observations of inspectors and industry workers alike complaining of the smell of the LFTB. Words like “reeked” were not beyond the pale. Ammonium hydroxide is “generally recognized as safe” according to the FSIS though. Despite the smell and appearance none of the constituents are considered dangerous.

Pink Slime constitutes less than 15% of the final product and does not need to be listed on the ingredients list. Being technically beef it seems unlikely that it would need to be listed in any case. In fact many of the emails from within the FSIS indicate that some inspectors were not even aware that the LFTB was being used in ground beef going to grocery stores and even school lunch programs.

Despite the less than savory process with which LFTB is created there does not seem to be much evidence for it being dangerous. None of the emails specifically mention a danger to the public; instead they reveal a huge level of ignorance. Even the inspectors were sometimes unaware of what was actually in the products they were inspecting. Dangerous or not, it seems reasonable that people should be informed about what they eat.

Inspectors did not even know, despite production bringing in a billion dollars before the controversy, that the product was included. In this case there seems little evidence that the meat is dangerous, but people deserve to know what they are buying and what they are eating.

Read more at http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/04/internal-emails-reveal-fsis-was-divided-on-pink-slime/