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US retailers swear off ‘pink slime’, industry worried

By Melodie Michel , 23-Mar-2012

US retailers swear off ‘pink slime’, industry worried

The American meat industry is worried about the consequences of a decision by major retailers to stop selling ground beef containing lean, finely textured trimmings (LFTB), commonly known as ‘pink slime’.

They said the move, prompted by growing consumer concerns over the controversial product, could lead to an increase in ground beef prices. “We understand the retailers’ decision to stop selling ground beef with lean, finely textured beef, based on consumer concerns. We hope that, over time, we can clarify the significant amount of misinformation being spread about LFTB and ease consumer concerns about the product. In the short term, removal of LFTB may mean the cost of ground beef goes up in some stores,” a spokesperson for the American Meat Institute (AMI) told GlobalMeatNews.

AMI estimates that without LFTB, the industry would need 1.5 million additional head of cattle to make up the difference in the beef supply.

A National Meat Association (NMA) spokesperson added: “This is an evolving story and I think we’re all trying to get a handle on what the economic fallout might be.  At the very least it could mean loss of jobs for the over 3,000 people employed at Beef Products, Inc.  The overall cost of producing ground beef could rise, as well.”

FDAImports.com, a consulting firm advising importers on Food and Drug Administration (FDA) compliance, believes consumers should be given scientific facts instead of media-manipulated images. Founder and CEO Benjamin England said: “The public’s recent outcry to have ‘pink slime’ removed from grocery store ground meat comes from gross-out images on the internet and not from any substantial food safety concerns.

“Campaigns against boneless lean beef trimmings, also known as pink slime, are thinly researched and stem mostly from gross-looking images scraped off the internet without any context. The processing methods and chemicals used in ground meat production have been in place for over 20 years. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe per se, but the sudden call to action based on misinformation from pop-culture sets a dangerous precedent.”

Pressure from consumers

Despite statements by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and meat industry leaders asserting that lean beef trimmings are safe for consumption, retailers and restaurant chains are increasingly giving in to a consumer campaign against ‘pink slime’.

Supermarket giant Safeway, the country’s second-biggest retailer, announced on Wednesday that it would “no longer purchase fresh ground beef or frozen ground beef patties containing lean finely textured beef”, while Supervalu told its Twitter followers: “We have made the decision to no longer purchase fresh ground beef containing finely textured beef for any of our traditional retail stores. Effective today, we have notified our suppliers and we are working with them to ensure a smooth transition.”

A week ago, USDA announced that schools would be able to opt out of serving lunches containing LTFB in the next school year, responding to an online petition by parents, but re-asserted the product’s safety.

In February, fast-food chains McDonald’s and Burger King announced their decision to stop serving burgers containing the product.

“The meat industry is suddenly working around the clock to protect its image and address misinformation when there haven’t been any food safety violations at all,” added England. “The food and beverage industry needs to learn from this, because public opinion can influence billions of dollars-worth of purchasing in a few weeks’ time, even if it comes from nothing more than an online video and some grainy internet pictures.”

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