The meat filler product known as pink slime is ubiquitous in the beef industry; in fact, many of us have been eating pink slime for years, as it’s often found in many beef products from local grocery stores. Pink slime is the recent nickname granted by food industry critics to finely textured beef, a processed meat filler made from meat scraps created during the cutting process. Pink slime is created by heat-processing the meat scraps, forcing them through a centrifuge and then submersing the mixture in an ammonia bath. These processes remove most of the fat from the meat and treat it to prevent E. coli and salmonella poisoning. Before it was known as pink slime, it could be found in all manner of meat products including:
- hot dogs
- luncheon meats
- pepperoni sticks
- frozen meat products
- canned meat products
Starting in 2011, the “pink slime” moniker began to spread as the result of a few news reports and television specials on the meat industry. The substance was featured on the ABC television show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and the coverage resulted in widespread public backlash, mostly transmitted through social media. The slime is treated with ammonia, a chemical with its own negative medical coding implications. Furthermore, Forbes.com published one such critical public service advertisement in an infographic entitled “Red Meat is Killing You”.
Statistical information disseminated throughout the public is typically used to point out the negative medical implications of eating pink slime, but much of this information applies to any red meat consumption and not specific to the meat filler. For instance, the Forbes.com graphic talks about the increased risk of heart disease and cancer among heavy eaters of red meat. The graphic also contends that up to 70 percent of processed red meat is composed of pink slime, but other than the unseemliness of using ammonia in the meat process, no argument is made that pink slime is any less healthy than regular red meat.
In a piece published by The Huffington Post, David Katz, M.D., the director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, also speaks heavily to the unappetizing nature of the finely textured beef meat process. “Whether or not pink slime is bad for health – a topic generating impassioned debate – may be moot,” writes Katz. “If people don’t like the idea of eating it, it will go away.” He mentions that food additives meant to increase a food’s shelf life often contains chemicals that can increase the risk of cancers or other health problems, tying the ammonia used in the pink slime process to health concerns. The less processed food in a person’s diet, Katz writes, the healthier he or she will be.
Much of the backlash caused by negative marketing for pink slime has caused many meat and beef producers to cut production of pink slime at various factories. A Des Moines Register article from March 2012, republished through USAToday.com, reported the decision by Beef Products International, a beef manufacturer that processed finely textured beef, to close three of its plants that were responsible for most of the manufacturer’s pink slime. The story also mentions an online petition drive from Houston that resulted in more than 250,000 signatures calling for an end to pink slime in retail grocery products and school lunch items. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees much of the country’s food regulations, made the decision to allow schools to opt out of pink slime products instead of forcing the filler product on school districts.
Beef industry experts believe that cutbacks in the use of pink slime will likely force high beef prices even higher, as it’s reported that finely textured beef makes up about 15 percent of ground beef products. Because pink slime is made of meat scraps, it tends to be a cheap filler product. “This shows the impact of the social media,” said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “There is absolutely no evidence that the product is unsafe, and it is low-fat.”
What do you think?
Has your mind changed about eating meat since this "pink slime" news broke a few weeks ago?
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