Fresh & Local
The U.S.D.A. and Pink Slime
Column #27, Published March 23rd, 2012

There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.

There is a guy named Michael Olson who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show called Food Chain Radio. (web site I know Michael because I have been a guest on his radio show. Michael has a great line that he uses: “The farther we go from the source of our food, the less control we have over what's in that food.”

The subject of “pink slime” makes Michael’s point.

I have already talked in a previous column about the issue of what often goes into ground beef. I won’t repeat myself here [See column #10, "Croftburn Market, Part 2"]

“Pink slime” is the pejorative name for a product that the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows to be added to ground beef. The real name is “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB). It is made from beef “trimmings” that are spun in a centrifuge to remove the fat, and then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.

I will come back to the issue of what constitutes “trimmings”. Here is the heart of this issue: If beef is processed properly, it should never contain E.coli, salmonella or any other bacteria. The fact that this product is being treated with ammonium hydroxide means that these “trimmings” have been somewhere that they should not have been.

This is idiocy. Every year, the U.S.D.A. recalls hundreds of thousands of pound of ground beef because of possible bacterial contamination. But they allow the use of contaminated “trimmings” in “pink slime” (LFTB). Go figure.

None of the articles I have read have explained what these “trimmings” are. One article said the “trimmings” were “connective tissue.” If that is true, then “pink slime” (LFTB) is not even meat. They might as well be adding sawdust to ground beef.

I have no doubt that if you use enough ammonium hydroxide, you can kill anything. Whether or not “pink slime” (LFTB) is safe is not the issue. The issue here is that the U.S.D.A. is allowing the adulteration of ground beef with a byproduct without any labeling whatsoever.

No one even knows for sure how much ground beef contains “pink slime” (LFTB). Estimates I have seen range from 50% - 70% of all the ground beef in the U.S. The U.S.D.A. has purchased 7 million pounds for school lunch programs.

If there is anyone that thinks that the decision to allow “pink slime” (LFTB) might have been based on science, then here are some fun facts to consider. The company that makes “pink slime” (LFTB) is South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. (BPI) A former under secretary of agriculture named Joann Smith made the decision to approve the company’s product, earning BPI millions of dollars. Smith then left the U.S.D.A. in 1993 and was appointed to the board of directors of BPI’s principal supplier. As a board member, she earned approximately $1.2 million over 17 years, ABC News has reported.

I believe that locally grown food has some substantial benefits, and this issue is just one more example. As Michael Olson says, the farther we go from the source, the less we know about what's in our food.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at