Fresh & Local
Pink Slime Update
Column #63, Published Nov 30th, 2012
My friend Michael Olson, who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show called Food Chain Radio, 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.”
“Pink slime” is a perfect example.
“Pink slime” is the pejorative name for a filler that the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows to be added to ground beef. The actual 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.
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 gas means that these “trimmings” have been somewhere that they should not have been.
Back in March, I wrote a couple of columns on pink slime / LFTB, and this was a big nationwide story this spring. There have been some recent developments, so an update is warranted.
Pink slime / LFTB is made by South Dakota-based meat processor Beef Products Inc. (BPI). Back in September, BPI filed a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News. BPI’s suit names as defendants: news anchor Diane Sawyer, correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley, USDA microbiologists Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, and former BPI quality assurance manager Kit Foshee. Gerald Zirnstein is the one who is credited with coining the name “pink slime.”
The lawsuit was filed in South Dakota State Court and seeks damages under South Dakota's defamation law, as well as a 1994 state agricultural disparagement law that allows businesses to sue anyone who knowingly spreads false information that a food product is unsafe.
BPI is charging that ABC’s reporting contained false and disparaging statements about their product. I believe that I have read everything that ABC News has written on the pink slime / LFTB subject, and I cannot find anything that they said that is untrue. Even though calling the filler “pink slime” may be unflattering, it is pink and, well, slimy.
BPI is very unlikely to win this lawsuit. They will have to prove that ABC falsely reported information, that they knew they were presenting false information, and then proceeded to do so out of malice or recklessness. That is a very tall order.
I cannot find an instance where ABC ever said that pink slime / LFTB was unsafe. There is no doubt that if you use enough ammonium hydroxide, you can kill anything. Whether or not pink slime / LFTB is safe was never the real issue. The real issue here is the U.S.D.A. allowing the adulteration of ground beef with a filler without any labeling whatsoever.
If BPI is unlikely to win a defamation lawsuit, then why spend the money on it? Attorney Oscar Michelen on his Courtroom Strategy web site has an item that I have not seen reported anywhere else. He says that BPI is still selling 2 million pounds of pink slime / LFTB per week. That is down from 5 million pounds per week before March, but pink slime / LFTB is still a big business, and BPI is defending that business.
As far as I know, of the big grocery store chains, only Safeway and Wal-Mart have announced that they will no longer use pink slime / LFTB. There is still a whole lot of hamburger being sold with pink slime / LFTB in it.
I believe that locally grown food has some substantial benefits, and this issue is just one more example.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org