Meat Industry Counters 'Pink Slime' Allegations

Washington: The debate as to whether boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) are safe for human consumption has been making headlines over the past few weeks as recent media reports created a troubling and inaccurate picture of the form of beef made by separating lean beef from fat, particularly in their use of the colloquial term "pink slime."

A recent ABC World News report brought the alleged "pink slime"—a food additive made from spare beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella—it into the public spotlight once again. During the segment, former USDA scientist Gerald Zirnstein said he coined the term "pink slime" for what the industry calls "lean finely textured beef," and warned USDA against its use. He went on to say 70 percent of the ground beef consumers purchase at retail contain the alleged "pink slime."

Since that interview, the "pink slime" controversy has been stirred by the media and consumer interest groups calling for the ban of BLBT.

However, American Meat Institute president J. Patrick Boyle defended BLBT saying: "Boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT) is a safe, wholesome and nutritious form of beef that is made by separating lean beef from fat. To make the product, beef companies use beef trimmings, the small cuts of beef that remain when larger cuts are trimmed down. These trimmings are USDA inspected, wholesome cuts of beef that contain both fat and lean and are nearly impossible to separate using a knife. When these trimmings are processed, the process separates the fat away and the end result is nutritious, lean beef. It's a process similar to separating cream from milk."

Boyle notes one process uses food grade ammonium hydroxide gas, something commonly used in the production of many foods, to destroy bacteria. Whatever process is used, it is all done under the watchful eye of USDA inspectors and according to strict federal rules. Lean finely textured beef is blended into foods like ground beef. Producing BLBT ensures that lean, nutritious, safe beef is not wasted in a world where red meat protein supplies are decreasing while global demand is increasing as population and income increases.

"Some recent media reports created a troubling and inaccurate picture, particularly in their use of the colloquial term 'pink slime.' The fact is, BLBT is beef. The beef trimmings that are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible," Boyle said. "In fact, no process can somehow make an inedible meat edible; it's impossible. In reality, the BLBT production process simply removes fat and makes the remaining beef more lean and suited to a variety of beef products that satisfy consumers' desire for leaner foods.

"In fact, BLBT is a sustainable product because it recovers lean meat that would otherwise be wasted. The beef industry is proud to efficiently produce as much lean meat as possible from the cattle we raise. It's the right thing to do and it ensures that our products remain as affordable as we can make them while helping to feed America and the world."