Yes! More On the Pink Slime Controversy: Facts Matter

There was a good piece about the “Pink Slime” uproar in yesterday’s Bloomberg News — more facts than we’re used to getting, and a thorough account of the role of BPI, Inc., the company (wrongly) blamed for PS and its use. (*1)

One of the players in this uproar is a woman named Bettina Elias Siegal, who blogs about food and particularly about food in American school lunch programs. Upset about the sale of PS to lunch programs, she launched an online petition to have it pulled from school lunchrooms.

I mention that here because of a quote from her in the Bloomberg article:

While blogger Siegel said the job losses are “tragic,” she notes that BPI “should have had no hesitation to inform consumers” that its product “was in the ground beef from the beginning,” perhaps through labeling. “I have never expressed anywhere a desire to drive this company out of business,” she said.

No wonder there’s so much confusion and misinformation floating around! Siegel apparently doesn’t know that BPI doesn’t sell the product direct to customers. It isn’t responsible for whatever labels are affixed to packages of hamburger that contain PS. BPI sells its lean finely textured beef (its trade name) to companies like ConAgra, who then add it to other ground beef to make hamburger, and then sell the burger to its customers.

So whatever labels the stuff could, or should, carry aren’t up to BPI, but to the company/institution that actually packages the burger that contains PS. (A bit convoluted, but presumably you get my point.)

Is this a trivial matter of semantics? Probably. Unfortunately, such trivialities and missteps and errors keep piling on and adding up — and now the Roth family may end up going out of business.

Yesterday I was in a Trader Joe’s store — and there, slapped on to the meat case, was a sign saying there was no PS in the company’s beef products. And that processors and packers add ammonia to their products so that beef will have “that red color that customers want.” (Or words to that effect. I didn’t think to write down the wording; this is very close to the original.) To which I said “Huh?” And rolled my eyes.

Again: I remind readers that I’m not a shill for corporate America. I’m not attached to either “side” in this controversy. What drives me nuts is the way this affair is powered by an engine constructed primarily of misinformation, outright lie, emotion, and fear-mongering. This is our food system we’re talking about. It’s important. So I’d rather see the discussion rooted in substance rather than, well, fluff and fear.


*1: Chops to Jen Robinson for pointing me to the article. I was out of the house most of yesterday and pretty well detached from the world.

2 thoughts on “Yes! More On the Pink Slime Controversy: Facts Matter

  1. I agree that these sorts of discussions should be rooted in substance rather than, as you put it, “fluff and fear”.

    However, to eliminate the “fluff and fear” all parties involved need to be forthright in the discussions.

    Everyone has their own particular bias and certainly industry has a longstanding historical bias in wanting to keep information from the public. They spend lots of money trying, and usually succeeding, to steer the discussion the way they want and to keep info from consumers.

    For instance, when you were at Trader Joe’s and saw the sign mentioning the use of ammonia “so that beef will have “that red color that customers want.” I understand why you rolled your eyes. Only silly peasants would think that ammonia is used to keep beef red looking longer!

    Ammonia? Bah! Of course the truth is that many sellers of packaged meat do use CO (carbon monoxide) when packaging beef to help it keep that nice “fresh” red color longer and thus more appealing to buyers. A process, by the way, which is banned by most more civilized countries including our friendly neighbors to the north.

    Of course that info is not generally known because industry, as is usual, spends lots of money paying politicians to defeat any such simple labeling of such use. Again, treating your customers with simple honesty and respect is not part of the equation.

    You state that: “This is our food system we’re talking about. It’s important.”

    I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. It’s hard, however, to have an honest, informed, and open discussion about something so important and fundamental when corporate interests outweigh the rights of people who buy food (pretty much all of us) to know exactly what they are buying/eating.

    Until that playing field is leveled (and it likely never will) industry deserves to suffer the occasional blowback from these events.

  2. HeavyG, you are my new favorite person. Again, I’m all in favor of labeling, honesty, etc. But I think I was unclear (sorry!) about my eyeroll over the TJ’s label: The ammonia isn’t added to make the meat red. The ammonia is added to change the pH level and kill bacteria.


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