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Bettina Elias Siegel Headshot

Let's Not Give in to Beef Industry "Slimewashing"

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The beef industry is pushing back hard in the last few days against opposition to Lean Beef Trimmings, better known as "pink slime."  Yesterday the American Meat Institute released this video defending the product.

There is also a new message in beef industry communications, expressly raised in the Food Safety News piece by Nancy Donley (mother of a child who tragically died of E. coli), that those who oppose LBT are somehow standing in the way of food safety that protects all of us.  In the words of  MeatPoultry.com, a meat industry trade publication, opponents to LBT could cause

"the use of an effective food safety tool being reduced" and "other companies researching new food safety technologies or programs [to] curtail their efforts after observing the challenges Beef Products has faced in the wake of the negative publicity.

But to oppose LBT is not to oppose reasonable food safety measures.

No doubt some consumers do fear the use of ammonium-hydroxide to process their food, but nothing in the wording of my Change.org petition or my writing or speaking about this issue has ever once sought to confuse the public by associating this chemical with the cleaning agent you keep under your sink.  Rather, those who have read about how LBT is made are likely to feel gratitude that an agent like ammonium hydroxide is used, given how naturally pathogenic the raw material used to make the product -- i.e.,  slaughterhouse scraps that are likely to be contaminated by cow excrement.

It is my belief that the majority consumers who oppose LBT in their beef are not irrational victims of fear-mongering.  Rather, they're simply mad that a cheap filler -- up to 15% -- has been surreptitiously mixed into what they thought was 100% ground chuck or ground round.   And this tampering is not without consequence.  Yesterday on The Lunch Tray I told readers how JM Hirsch, Associated Press's food editor, found that the taste and texture of beef with LBT was substantially different than true "100% ground beef."  And a former USDA microbiologist has argued that the proteins in LBT are inferior nutritionally.  The consumer is being harmed in a very real way by USDA's decision not to label this stuff on packaging.

So let's not give in to beef industry "slimewashing."  Please contact your congressional representatives and ask them to sign on to the letter being circulated  by Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, which demands that this stuff be taken out of USDA beef destined for schools and that it be labeled in supermarkets.

These are reasonable requests which have nothing to do with opposing food safety measures, and it is simply wrong for the beef industry to portray our efforts otherwise.

[Hat tip and thanks to my online colleague Nancy Huehnergarth of NYSHEPA for coining the excellent term "slimewashing." ]

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