One Year Later, The Makers of ‘Pink Slime’ Are Hanging On, and Fighting Back

As the meat industry again makes news thanks to an endless stream of articles about horse meat masked as beef popping up all over Europe, the “pink slime” story is still playing itself out in courthouses, law offices and the one BPI plant still in operation.

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Nati Harnik / REUTERS

But not everyone at the USDA was happy with BPI’s methods, or the agency’s approval. In 2002, USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein sent a private e-mail to a fellow USDA scientist, calling BPI’s product “pink slime” and writing, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

“It’s pink. It’s pasty. And it’s slimy looking. So I called it ‘pink slime,’” Zirnstein told the Associated Press last year. “It resonates, doesn’t it?”

For years, Zirnstein’s term didn’t get the chance to resonate because the memo was seen only inside the USDA. But that changed in December 2009 when The New York Times published an article questioning the safety of BPI’s product. The piece cited documentation of E. coli and salmonella pathogens being found “dozens of times in Beef Products meat,” including in shipments to public schools. It also quoted LFTB buyers who complained about a strong ammonia odor coming from the product. Perhaps most significantly, however, the article quoted Zirnstein calling the product “pink slime,”  introducing the phrase into the public sphere.

(MORE: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us)

Still, it wasn’t until a year and a half later that the phrase became a full-fledged internet meme. In April 2011, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver purported to replicate the process used to make LFTB on his show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. On the segment, Oliver douses household ammonia on some beef and then places the mixture into a front-loading washing machine. It’s eye-grabbing, shocking, and Oliver’s end product looks thoroughly disgusting. If the bit was meant to gross people out, it worked. Of course, Oliver’s stunt didn’t resemble BPI’s actual process, which applies ammonia in a gaseous, not liquid, form — and doesn’t take place in a washing machine. But that hasn’t prevented the clip from being viewed close to 1.7 million times. (Oliver declined to discuss the segment though a representative, who said the celebrity chef had “no spare time right now.”)

It took almost another year for the ABC News series to air, portraying Zirnstein as a reluctant whistleblower, and claiming that 70% of U.S. ground beef contained LFTB, a product that was once used for dog food but had since been deemed fit for humans. “It’s economic fraud,” said Zirnstein in one of the ABC News reports. “It’s not fresh ground beef. It’s a substitute. It’s a cheap substitute being added in.”

ABC News aired 11 segments on pink slime between March 7 and April 3 on both ABC World News and Good Morning America along with 14 online reports. According to the lawsuit filed by BPI, the plant repeatedly gave the network information about its product to dispute some of ABC’s claims, including documents showing that LFTB had been deemed safe by the USDA. BPI claims that the news network was just trying to boost ratings. ABC News refused to comment for this story, but in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed in October, the network argued that it “repeatedly stated that LFTB was safe to eat” and that the term pink slime “while unflattering, does not convey false facts about the color or texture of LFTB and is precisely the kind of ‘imaginative expression’ and ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ that is constitutionally protected.”

A number of food scientists were interviewed last year when “pink slime” seemed to have taken over the Internet. Today, several of them say that a lot of the information they presented to reporters did not end up in the coverage.

“I talked to a lot of media people last year,” says Jim Dickson, an Iowa State University professor who has conducted research for BPI. “On one particularly memorable day, I talked to four different media sources. I can tell you that I provided them with the scientific basis for things like why they used an ammonia-injection process for food safety. In roughly 80% of the cases, none of that information made it into the news.”

Dickson says at one point he was criticized by some in the meat industry for not providing enough information about BPI to the media. “My only response was, well, they had the information. They chose not to use it.”

Gary Acuff, director of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, who has publicly defended BPI in the past, similarly says he believes ABC News elected to leave out facts about the safety of LFTB. “The easiest way to get people’s attention is to start telling them something they’re eating is disgusting or poisonous,” he says. “And boy, you can get their attention fast.”

As ABC News attempts to get the entire lawsuit dismissed, the parties are wrangling over where a trial would be held. The case has been sent to federal court, but BPI would like it moved back to South Dakota state court, where the company would likely face a more sympathetic jury, says Erika Eckley, a staff attorney at the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University.

Wherever the case plays out, however, Eckley says BPI faces an uphill legal battle. “The big thing they’ll have to prove is disparagement,” says Eckley. “They’re going to have show there was an implication that [LFTB] was unsafe — and I’m not sure they’re going to be able to prove that.” ABC News argues that its reports never said BPI’s product was unsafe; and it’s true that the network made clear that LFTB had been approved by the USDA. So the case is likely to turn on whether BPI can convince a jury that ABC’s repeated use of the phrase “pink slime” implied that it wasn’t safe to eat.

The case will be one of the first challenging First Amendment protections for news outlets in the social media era. One notable piece of evidence cited in BPI’s lawsuit is a single Tweet by reporter Jim Avila, who wrote: “It’s just not what it purports to be. Meat.” One of BPI’s arguments is that ABC News intentionally portrayed its product as something other than beef. (The USDA considers LFTB to be beef.)

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77 comments
dgraves55
dgraves55

Diane should sue her make-up artiste. She should not report on things she, or her research team has no experience or knowledge.  ABC should pay damages.

inalabal
inalabal

It's funny how we will cry about ammonia gas in our beef, but continue to chug gallons of water everyday. Ever thought about what keeps our water clean? Or does pure pristine water fall from the teets of clouds.

soahs
soahs

Jan. 15, 2013 - Lawsuit filed - Robert Danell dies days after falling ill during E. Coli outbreak in 2009 linked to ground beef that sickened 25 people in 17 states.  BPI contaminated beef trim sold to BI made its way into products including Tyson ground beef eaten by Danell.  (Looks like the ammonia didn't work)

2006 - Food processing giant Cargill suspends 3 of its processing plants for excessive Salmonella, 2 of which were BPI plants.

2009 - Usda announces BPI recalls more than 800,000 pounds ground beef products due to salmonellosis.

2006 - Federal school lunch officials find E. coli in BPI products

2009 - Federal school lunch officials temporarily ban hamburger makers  from using LFTB from BPI after linking it to Salmonella.  USDA revokes BI exemption from routine pathogen testing.

2009 Federal school lunch officials find E. coli in BPI products for a third time.

2009 - 22 year old Stephanie Smith becomes paralyzed after eating a contaminated hamburger that contained LFTB.

2010 - BPI will begin posting all of its E. coli and Salmonella test results online.  The company later scraps this plan.


FinalOpinion1
FinalOpinion1

I can understand a persons reaction to the words “pink slime”. The ass at the USDA and the New Times should pay for slandering this product, and here is why. If in the process of cutting up beef to grind into ground beef, are the parts that fall off as a scrapes any less healthy than the pieces that just went into the grinder? It not, then we are still talking the same quality in the meat. So what if they are able to extract more meat from the left over fat/beef by centrifuging it. At this point it is still same as the beef that was ground except it now has a different consistency. However, if they are adding any other products that they are not adding to the ground beef, then yes, they have an obligation to inform the public. As to the use of a mild form of chlorine gas to kill bacteria, that is a personal preference. I personally do not have a problem with irradiation, etc, of the foods I eat. The Salmonella, and E-Coli bacteria’s hit children, and we senior citizens the hardest. This product has been in use for a long time. Where are the masses of sick and dead people who ate it?

KnBlack
KnBlack

I never was against this process. The principal of false advertising was my concern. Several of the local grocery stores were selling ground beef with this additive and never mentioned it contained something other then ground beef. The grocery store I buy from has some of the best meat in the Midwest. When they sell 85% ground beef, that is all that is contained in the product. It is unfair to honest  businesses to compete against stores sneaking in less then 1st class ingredients and selling them as the same product. When I buy 80 % or what ever ground beef, or ground sirloin, that is what I expect to have in the product. If they add some other cut of beef such as LFTB or pink slim or what ever, I expect to see it listed on the description.

Onepatriot
Onepatriot

I don't want this stuff in my food.  I don't eat poultry and now I have to read the label on my beef purchases.  Who knew?  Just because it may be analyzed and determined to be safe, doesn't make it something which should be saleable. If that were the case, we'd be eating food with bugs, or worms in it, that are deemed to be safe.

Good grief, common sense would dictate we don't want this kind of stuff being put in our food, so why does the FDA allow it?

cendrizzi
cendrizzi

This article made it sound like their inclusion of ammonia gas is out of the goodness of their heart only. The real reason is because the types of cuts they use often are exposed to feces and have much higher chance of contamination. 

smaras
smaras

I'm willing to concede that LFTB-infused hamburger is safe enough, but it needs to be fully disclosed on the packaging.  

The larger issue of concern to meat industry people should be...many consumers wouldn't buy any meat products if they saw where it came from and how it was converted from a live animal to the packaged meat product.  I'm not talking about hiden camera video of bad producers in action, I'm talking about a dispassionate video documentary in a best-in-class facility showing animals coming in from the truck and following them all the way through the slaughter to packaging process.  Only the sights and sounds.  No music or industry narration.  Meat industry wouldn't want consumers to see this best-case scenario for steaks and chops.  Heaven forbid consumers would see the production of more processed items like hams, hotdogs, and LFTB.     

JenniferBuford
JenniferBuford

I have a feeling there are some blind workers/henchmen posting on here because who cares about safety......nutrition......ethics........in reality I eat all kinds of stuff that I know is horrible for me......BUT I have disclosure on what I'm eating......that's the ONLY relevance to pink slime.......just TELL ME........then I wont feel like I've been betrayed/ conned/ and mislead.......my husband would eat pink slime all day......he could care less what it was.....he was pissed though to find out he was not told first.......same here.

sfarwell
sfarwell

One of the closing comments is that LFTB can substantially reduce the cost of ground beef. Why make what appears to be a factually based statement without any supporting facts. An example would be nice - ground beef costs $2 a pound, if 10% of LFTB is added and it costs $1 a pound then ground been costs $1.90 a pound. With that information a consumer can decide if they are willing to pay more to avoid LFTB. Perhaps having ground beef with and without LFTB next to each other in the meat aisle, clearly marked and with different prices, the consumer will solve this issue without lawsuits.

davidhoffman
davidhoffman

Jamie Oliver's irresponsible actions resonated with people who should know better.  I work with a bunch of engineers, many of whom refused to distinguish between the ammonia gas technique and the use of liquid ammonia as Mr.Oliver did. One  issue with most people I know was the word ground.  If it said ground beef on the label that was what it should be, ground.  Put through a grinder, NOT a centrifuge. Many people asked why a proper process that only involved the centrifuge, with no ammonia gas, could not be used. The label would need to be changed to something like 100% beef patty meat mixture. There would be an ingredient label listing it as being made from ground beef and centrifuge separated beef. No ammonia listed, as none would be used. Must cook to well done would also be on the label. Proper informative labeling could have avoided this whole issue.

DonnyDarkoh
DonnyDarkoh

Food labeling has split food into three tiers: (1) Normal food bought at the grocery store, which has all sorts of unlabeled garbage like pink slime, (2) 'organic' food, which has stricter requirements like no GMO's and only 'organic' fertilizers and pesticides, and (3) unlabeled food that is directly bought from the farmer.  Fight all you want, but the 'powers that be' have decided it should be this way, and they will soon convince all your neighbors and friends that this is right because of food shortages and food waste.  Just get busy making money so you can buy real food, because you're not changing the masses or the leaders.

syzygysb
syzygysb

So---ammonia and gas-treated beef is okay?  Am I missing something here?

jeffaberry415
jeffaberry415

It is unfortunate, and also good to see a human face on the story, and it's effects.

I think ABC did sensationalize the story, and I believe the name in and of itself does carry a negative connotation, why not call it LFTB ? Because "pink slime" is salacious and attention grabbing. It's like calling someone a child molester, even if they aren't the damage is done when the accusation is made.

But I will say too, look for this stuff to make a come-back, with the drought they're having in the midwest they can't water the alfalfa which means it's going to cost more to feed beef. Beef costs are already up from last year and they will, like gasoline, go higher.

Exactly how much is America willing to pay for their Big Mac's, Gordita's and their Dodger Dogs ? And when are we going to address the question raised in the article, with a world population at 3 billion, how do we propose to feed all those people ?




rainstormtorrentia
rainstormtorrentia

If LFTB is actually ground beef, then why do they have to add it to ground beef in order to make it pass as ground beef?  Logically, all they would need to do is add back in some of that fat they just extracted it from.

ShelleyPowers
ShelleyPowers

"In short, the company and its product — which has never been found to be unsafe, unhealthy, or to have caused food-borne illnesses — were victims of an insidious viral internet meme that wedged them between two powerful and opposing forces: the need to feed millions cheaply, and the growing desire of American consumers to know exactly what they’re eating."

This is inaccurate. 

From the New York Times article in 2009:

"But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?pagewanted=all




deritermai
deritermai

Soylent Green will be on the menu next if food processors and greedy industrialists have their way.  Damned right they don't want to call this crap what it is, but want to cal it what it really isn't.  The fact is they got caught with their thumb on the scale and now are whining about it because it hurt their bottom line.  Consumers have every right to know what exactly it is that they are buying, what they are paying for, and most certainly what they are being fed.  They also have a right to ask the questions, to buy and consume or not, and to investigate however they can.  The fact that some in-the-pocket government agency approves a name, a process, or a particular pseudo food as safe does not make it so.  The government is not our friend, as governments here and around the world have proven again and again. 

JackTheMack
JackTheMack

1. There is more ammonia in the bun or the cheese of your burger than what is in the final product. Ammonia is always present in the human body.

2. The end product is so incredibly lean that you can't make burger with it, you have to add it to normal burger so that it sticks together. But when you do, four blind taste studies have shown that people actually prefer burgers with ltfb in them! So much for people being grossed out by it.

3. The USDA gave BPY the OPTION of labeling it as something other than beef after the scandal. They had approved it being called meat, and still do, since that what it is at the molecular level, and only made it optional so that BPI could try and get sales from people who just babbled about "labeling." Neither BPI or the USDA tried to hide anything

4. The product is equally, if not more, never less, nutritious than traditional ground beef when it comes to nutrition/vitamin content.


There are so many more facts about this story that just blow your mind when you realize how stupid, gullible and self-righteous people are out there.

walter17
walter17

next is bpa and all those unpronounceable chemicals American food companies put into our foods.  

robert_paulson
robert_paulson

next thing you know there going to be telling us that soylent green is made from green slime.....yuch

wrongpassport
wrongpassport

When the information about pink slime got attention, sales dropped. To me, that means that the sale was unethical. We weren't in a situation where everyone was happily consuming LFTB until a cabal of media called it pink slime. People didn't know they were eating LFTB, and when they found out, they were unhappy about it. It is the same with the horsemeat scandal: I happily eat horsemeat, but I'm not happy to know that I eat ground beef made from meat that travels the world via unreliable intermediates without traceability.

joeaverager
joeaverager

Just clearly label what's in the grocery store. If the fish is from China - then I want to know. I want to know if it is from Australia or Germany too. If it has "finely textured beef" in the beef then I want to know that. I'll decide what I want my family to eat. Maybe highly processed food is the right way to feed millions of people who can't afford better - but I have made sacrifices in other parts of my life so I can afford better that fastfood quality food for my family. I'm not saying FTLB is "just" fast food quality beef - but I'm saying I don't want highly processed food in my diet if I don't need to. 


We've just switched to organic milk and was surprised to find that it doesn't spoil for weeks LONGER than the store bought milk we've always bought. Odd, I thought it would be the other way around. I have had fresh from the farm grass fed beef several times and the difference is very pleasing. Luckily I work with a fellow who raises beef and I can buy a half or quarter and freeze it. We don't eat alot of meat but like anything else - its part of our family menu rotation. We can buy farmyard eggs too. They definitely taste better as well while being nearly the same price as the store bought eggs. These are all benefits of living in a small town surrounded by farmers, being friends with farmers, having a farmer's market less than 2 miles from where I live and less than a mile from where I work. I also have a friend who runs a produce stand and there I can buy organic milk, eggs, and veggies when they are in season. Part of those sacrifices I mentioned above? This may not be NYC or LA but it's a nice place to raise our kids and we make a good living here. 


Like I said - label foods clearly. Let us choose what we want to eat. I think that might be why our food isn't labeled as clearly as other countrys' - corporate America knows we'd boycott a list of ingredients and their almighty stock value might dip. Oh dear! As time goes by though - the less I know about my food - the less I want to eat it and the more I want to buy locally from people I trust and value as neighbors.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

If both processed burgers and 'farm fresh' taste the same and both are safe, the hell with the food purists who should be offered to pay double.... If we want meet affordable in the future it is going to have to be grown in a vat or processed from waste into a safe to eat product that is indistinguishable to the real thing for the average consumer....

as long as it is safe to eat and you cant tell the difference. (and only the cheese-brains are claiming ammonia smell etc) who gives a damn... Then again my countrymen are on the whole about at the 4th grade with regards to science and comprehension.

securisure
securisure

@soahs Where is the following information: Sources?  Comparison to how often these types of infractions occur with other types of meat, including various types of beef, chicken and pork products?  Comparison to other food products and how often public health problems and recalls affect these products (e.g. hepatitis on lettuce, e coli on spinach, etc)?  Comparison to how often other similar companies face recalls or other action from USDA and their own internal regulation?  Numbers from USDA indicating frequency of recalls and food-borne illness in the industry as a whole?

Without information like that listed above, this timeline is isolated and insufficient.

FinalOpinion1
FinalOpinion1

P.S. 85% ground beef etc. means the meat is 85% lean beef, and the other 15% is fatty beef, not fillers as some people think.

KirkHansen
KirkHansen

@KnBlack LFTB is BEEF.  When you purchase 80% lean ground beef, you are getting beef and nothing else.  the other 20% is fatty beef.  The ability to produce leaner ground beef at an affordable price is attributable to the addition of LFTB, which is beef and nothing but beef with the excess fat removed.  It is not an additive, it is BEEF.

KirkHansen
KirkHansen

@smaras It would only have to be listed as an ingredient or an additive if it actually WAS an additive or another ingredient.  LFTB is BEEF, which is already noted on the packaging.

KnBlack
KnBlack

@sfarwellGood point, but I don't think you will see hard facts in pricing. Big Corporations make the statement that it is lowering cost. Maybe, or maybe not. Great general statement with no real data that would force them to really do what they are telling the public. It is common to reduce the manufacturing costs and keep the increase in profits unless they need to divert sales their direction by lower pricing. Sounds good on paper, but in reality the industry is one big oligopoly and with just a few big players, The chance of passing on savings is reduced substantially by this nontransparent system. Most of the time the lower cost of manufacturing is an increase of profit that goes into the pockets of a few, not the consumer, not the low paid workers. Just like Wal-mart opening price point marketing. Yes the advertised item is lower priced then the surrounding area.The rest of similar items will be higher priced in the hopes that the consumer is given a false impression that all Wal-mart items are the lowest priced. This is why the consumer needs to know what is they are buying for a fair comparison. The labels on any product need to state all important information necessary to determine if they are getting what they want. This is true capitalism, not the convoluted, half truth, spin controlled, hyper marketing system we have now

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@davidhoffman But there is ammonia in the product. As reported in the 2009 NYT article,before people even knew about it being there, they complained of an ammonia smell coming from the beef. Apparently, the gas didn't disappear after all.

nstaley401
nstaley401

@syzygysb  it has never been proven to have an negative health effects by the USDA

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@jeffaberry415 Meat certainly isn't the most economic use of land and resources. You can grow far more crops on land using fewer resources than we do to raise meat. I'm no vegetarian, but we have started eating more whole grains, veggies, and fruits, and our health has improved because of it (my cholesterol is in a normal range.) We've lost weight on top of it. Many, many cultures have a grain or bean based, rather than meat based food system as grains, beans, and veggies are pound-for-pound cheaper than meat and use fewer resources and less land than raising meat. We are going to have to stop putting meat at the head of our meals if we are going to feed everyone economically.Meat is expensive to produce and not very efficient with resources.

judeamorris
judeamorris

Science and comprehension? And you say this in the same posting in which your only qualification for food is taste and affordability. Safety is not the only issue for "food purists." There are a wide variety of issues on the table for those people examining food production and consumption in this country. I suggest you do research so you can talk about food from an educated point of view rather than attacking people with whom you do not agree.

KnBlack
KnBlack

@KirkHansen @KnBlack If you use that logic, lips, ears, and any other part of a cow is beef. I want to know if the food I eat has been dropped on the floor then soaked in ammonia to kill what ever it got from being scraped, scooped and pressed off of a cows carcass and most likely still is in the stuff like hair and what ever it picked up. The term 80% has in the past been understood to be a ratio of fat and traditional beef meat cuts. The reclaimed stuff in LFTB or PS or what ever, until IBP found a way of salvaging meat scraps was not a normal meat cut when the term ground beef was created. Again, as I said not against this stuff, but if the truth needs to be hidden that LFTB or PS what ever spin control wording you come up with is contained in your purchase it isn't moral . It needs to be up front on the label, same reasoning the public wants to know the country of origin. If the industry is afraid to state what is in their product, then the government needs to step up and let the consumer know what is in their food like they are doing in other food quality issues. 

PopeyeAmericannews
PopeyeAmericannews

Then why isn't it listed on the package, Kirk?  It's because they are ashamed to admit it.

caseydcaldwell
caseydcaldwell

@KirkHansen@smaras look a$$ hole, we don't want this crap in our food. Without a way of knowing it is in our food, in effect, takes away our choice to purchase and consume it. If you want to feed your family what is unfit for dogs, fine. I do not. Also,  I get the impression you are part of their PR campaign. So like I said its about choice. Stop insisting that your clients company be able force this crap on us by not giving us a choice to consume it. . This is not what people are expecting to get when they purchase and consume beef products and you frickin know it. Prick.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@nstaley401 @syzygysb Has it been proven to NOT have negative effects? Seems to me like that should be the standard--proving it has done no harm rather that people having to prove it has done harm.


Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@judeamorris 


If it is both safe to eat, cheap, and healthy ..... By all means pay 3x more and rave about the great taste you gained via the placebo effect.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@judeamorris 

Safety is the only concern... what else is there? Texture and Taste?

This stuff is testing out to be remarkably safe and merely gross... So what the hell else is there?

MarkCarroll1
MarkCarroll1

@Tisi Amen  to  that   so much  of what we eat  today  is  GMO meats and  vegtables .I believe half the GMO crap we consume  gives  us some form of cancer. and some  of it ,we can't digest.  All  approved   by  our  government

Tisi
Tisi

@caseydcaldwell @KirkHansen@smaras You can eliminate LFTB simply from your beef by grinding up whole pieces of meat in a grinder. So problem solved. Enjoy your GMO product.

BTW, the FDA deems it safe to consume meat from cloned animals, AND do not require the fact to be disclosed on the label. So good luck knowing exactly what you are putting on the table!

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@KimberlyGistCollins @Hadrewsky @judeamorris 

Conducted ammonia tests under blind settings taste NOTHING


as for safety the damn company has gone WAY beyond what they have to do.... and they are PASSING THE TESTS.


by all means drag up your biased BS research.

Smiling1809
Smiling1809

@Hadrewsky @judeamorris DId you read the article? It isn't safe. Huge batches have been found with E. Coli and Salmonella. How is that safe? And people complained of an ammonia smell years before anyone knew the beef had that stuff in it.