Remember in Ghostbusters II the pink slime that is flowing underground in New York City? The mood slime which gets stronger with negative energy and threatens to bring back an evil warlock? “It’s the stuff… it is like pure concentrated evil” according to Ray Stanz (played by Dan Aykroyd). It is the stuff of nightmares and was truly terrifying for my much younger self.
Imagine my horror at finding that Pink Slime really does exist and is no longer the thing of my favorite campy ghost movie. Instead of running through the old transit system of New York City, it is now running through the meat grinders of the US. By March of 2012, it could be found in over 70 percent of all ground beef. So unless you are having your beef ground right in front of you or go to a farm that makes sure no pink slime makes it into their products, there is a good chance that you have consumed pink slime at one point in your life. (Never in my life have I been so grateful for having a beef allergy as I am right now)
Aside from its truly unappetizing name, what is pink slime and why should I worry? If you Google “Pink Slime” this what you get.
Pink slime. Above: ground beef, from a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) image of a beef-grinding operation. “Pink slime” is a dysphemism for a meat-based product the meat industry calls “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB), “finely textured beef“, and “boneless lean beef trimmings” (BLBT).
Now that still does not sound too bad if you are someone who likes a good breakfast sausage now and then, but if it were just another form of ground beef, would I be writing about it? The answer is a resounding “NO!”
Pink Slime is made up all the stuff that cannot got into the various cuts of meat we are familiar with such a steaks loin, shoulder, etc. It is the fat, the gristle, the trimmings, and the connective tissue (various producers of Pink Slime swear that no connective tissue goes into their slime, but when studies were conducted on random products, guess what was found… you guessed right.). All of this would normally be rendered and sent off for animal food or cooking oil. Instead, it was decided that this could still have use for humans. It is put in a centrifuge to separate all the bits out, but most importantly the fat. It is then flash frozen before being exposed to either citric acid or gaseous ammonia. Citric acid, not so bad. Ammonia… the stuff that is toxic and has to be stored safely away from children and pets? Why? To kill the E. coli and salmonella throughout the meat and make it “safe”. This is again flash frozen before being shipped out to be used as an additive in beef products. The kicker… because it is beef (97-99%), it can be used in your 100% ground beef because pink slime is still beef. No labeling required.
Jaimie Oliver did a video on pink slime during one of his shows the rightfully horrified anyone who was watching. He dramatized what happens in the creation of pink slime to a group of families and it was broadcast. ABC picked up the story and ran this segment.
This video more clearly states the process and that even USDA folks were against its inclusion in beef. Whistle blowers can only be called such when there is an actual whistle to blow. For running the story, ABC was hit with a defamation suit because consumers did not like what they were hearing and responded by not purchasing ground beef.
Due to this, there was a huge consumer backlash against the producers of pink slime and any Big Business that used ground beef with pink slime. For a while, it looked like it was going to be phased out and that products including pink slime would have a label that reflected all the ingredients. McDonalds lead the revolution when they said they would not use it. Cargill (a producer) even said they would label it. All of this was a move in the right direction.
That was until recently. Americans love their beef. The hamburger is the quintessential food of the US. With beef prices on the rise, consumers want the price of their patties to stay the same so pink slime is being being reintroduced back into ground beef. Labeling products with pink slime is still voluntary. The USDA says that pink slime is safe and there is no reason not to use it.
Here is the catch. Yes it might be ‘safe’ because all of the dangerous microbes have been killed, but shouldn’t I have a choice in what I put into my body? What if the sound of eating some thing that is nicknamed ‘pink slime’ is nauseating? If I am paying for 100 % beef, shouldn’t that be what is in the package sans filler? The answer is ‘Yes’ to every single one of these questions. IF someone decides they want to have a burger that could be upwards of 25 % pink slime that is their choice. If someone chooses not to have it there should be a label directing them to the slime free alternative. Transparency and choice are the heart of the matter. Again, the American public needs to put their money where it counts and let the beef industry know their wishes.
Personally, I think pink slime should ooze its way back to the movie industry so I know who to call.