Backlash to the ‘Pink Slime’ Backlash

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Who in the world would ever want “pink slime” in their hamburger? Before answering, take note that the slime is officially referred to as “lean finely textured beef,” or LFTB, that it’s 95% lean, on average — and that without it, you can expect meat to be 5% to 10% more expensive.

These are a few of the points that government officials from five U.S. states, the National Meat Association and plants that produce LFTB — to them, there’s no such thing as pink slime — want the public to consider amid the slimy uproar.

Over a month ago, McDonald’s made news with its decision to drop pink slime from its hamburger meat after months of campaigning against the substance by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and others. Since then, several national supermarkets have likewise banned LFTB, and plants that produce LFTB — basically, a paste of beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide — have suspended operations, affecting over 600 jobs.

(MORE: The Meatless — and Less Meat — Revolution)

Now, reports the Associated Press, three governors and two lieutenant governors from the LFTB-producing states of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas have gone public in their defense of the substance as safe. After a tour of an LFTB plant, the officials released a statement declaring, “Lean, finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product that is backed by sound science.”

The AP also quotes Russell Cross, a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service administrator, who said, “I’m not saying it’s perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe. All food is going to have bacteria in it. But this product has never been in question for safety.”

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In a Chicago Tribune column, Phil Rosenthal talks to Craig Letch, director of food safety and quality assurance for Beef Products Inc. (BPI), which produces LFTB. Letch says BPI is a “family-owned business” that makes “safe, nutritious, quality 100 percent beef”:

“We don’t produce ‘pink slime.’ We produce 100 percent quality lean beef. That’s it. That whole thing is a farce. There’s no substance to it.”

Edward Mills, a Penn State professor of dairy and animal science, also comes to the defense of BPI in the piece:

“This is a company with a long reputation of doing things right, working with regulatory agencies and food safety people. From a technical or logical standpoint, these are the folks you’d hold up and say this is the way you do it.”

(MORE: Where’s the Beef? Expect Less Meat, Higher Prices at Steakhouses)

The Cedar Valley Courier, in Iowa, meanwhile, consults another academic about the price implications of no more LFTB:

Shane Ellis, livestock economist at Iowa State University in Ames, said an extremely tight meat supply just got tighter. He estimates price hikes of 5 percent to 10 percent for many beef products, like pre-packaged frozen burgers.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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