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High beef prices force the return of ‘pink slime’
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High beef prices force the return of ‘pink slime’

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High beef prices force the return of ‘pink slime’

Two years after consumers shunned “pink slime” – the slaughterhouse scraps that are used as ground beef fillers – the dubious meat product is back in demand. Record high beef prices are forcing processors and retailers to ask for the ingredient as a way to lower costs, according to reports. "Pink slime” is officially known in the meat industry as “lean, finely textured beef."

Many food establishments, including McDonald’s (MCD), Kroger (KR) and Safeway (SWY), said they would no longer use “pink slime” after ABC first reported its use in hamburgers and other meat products in 2012. The Department of Agriculture said its school lunch program would stop serving "pink slime" to students in response to the outcry.

Now that demand for “pink slime” has returned, South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., the beef producer that was forced to close plants after the backlash and who ultimately became the public face of the “pink slime” controversy, says it will start making the product again and has opened a factory in Kansas. Beef Products Inc. sued ABC for $1.2 billion in 2012, claiming the network misled consumers over its "false and misleading and defamatory" reports; the suit is still pending.

Patty Lovera, assistant director at Food & Water Watch, said “pink slime” was still part of the national food chain even after the panic in 2012. Cargill Inc. sells “finely textured beef” to nearly 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, according to The Wall Street Journal. Cargill’s executive chairman Gregory Page told the WSJ that sales of finely textured beef have “rebounded sharply from their 2012 lows” and Cargill’s sales “have risen about threefold from their lowest point.”

“The demand is not coming from consumers…consumers have not changed their mind [on pink slime],” Lovera tells Yahoo Finance. “It’s economics.”

One of the big open questions is where the “pink slime” ends up when it leaves a processor like Cargill. According to the Los Angeles Times, McDonald’s and other major fast-food chains still do not use “slimed” meat products.

The United States Department of Agriculture addressed the safety of “pink slime” in a blog post on the government agency’s website in 2012:

“The process used to produce LFTB (Lean Finely Textured Beef) is safe and has been used for a very long time. Adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume.”

Lovera says “pink slime” is a “high risk” meat byproduct that is more likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli. Beef Products Inc. and Cargill treat the meat trimmings – undesirable parts like the cow's head and connective tissue – with ammonia and citric acid to kill bacteria.

“Pink slime” may be the cheaper alternative but food retailers should seriously consider whether it’s worth the price, argues Lovera.

“The reason for the outrage was because people felt duped…there was no disclosure,” she notes. “Retailers, grocery stores and fast-food chains have a lot of thinking to do if they want to use it. But the question is if consumers realize it’s back.”


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