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APRIL 3, 2012 9:50PM

Revenge of the Pink Slime.

Rate: 21 Flag

As a professional meat-cutter, I have been barraged in recent days with a single question that I am sure is echoing across the meat coolers of America.  All day they call on the phone, ring the buzzer and grab my arm as I fill the case to ask in a panicked voice:

 “Does your ground beef have that pink slime stuff in it?”

 Where did this come from? We’ve known about pink slime for years. Basically it is recycled meat-trimmings that would typically be unsafe or used for pet foods that, through a patented process, is cleaned and sanitized for human consumption and labeled with various harmless sounding monikers like “lean textured ground beef.” It is used as filler in a wide variety of ground beef products. The meat-industry defends the practice as necessary for “affording cheap nutrition for a growing population.”

 Many people, of course, have written about the questionable practice including the FDA official who coined the term “pink slime.” The process was even shown in disgusting detail in the movie Food, Inc a few years ago. Until a couple weeks ago, however, I had never received a single question about it. Somehow the issue, through a combination of media outlets including social media, reached a kind of tipping point. I guess it’s not unlike the recent lottery hysteria. When the numbers grow to a certain level—then everyone has to play.

 Fortunately the answer to my customers’ question is “no.” For once my company is out in front of a trend. Almost two years ago, we started grinding everything in-store—out of fresh primal chunks of meat. Our ground sirloin is ground from whole sirloin tips, our ground round from whole bottoms rounds, and our ground chuck from whole chuck shoulder clods. Before that we used bulk coarse-ground chubs—long tubes of previously ground beef that we simply slit open and dumped into the grinder. I don’t know if they had “finely textured” ground beef added to it or not, but they were often slimy, gassy and stinky.

 Our consultants and advisors were aghast when we made the switch.  One group toured our store and literally gasped. Not only is it more labor and slightly less profitable than using pre-ground or gas-packed ground beef (with a shelf life of several weeks), but what concerned these accountants the most was the liability issue. By grinding our own beef, we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophic lawsuit. In the case of an e-coli outbreak most chain stores can just shrug and say—we don’t touch it here, therefore we have no liability. It’s one of those Catch-22s of the modern supply chain. By grinding everything in a central processing plant--where working conditions and sanitization is questionable at best—the risk of contaminating huge segments of the population increase, but the liability for the retail outlets is deferred, so the practice is encouraged.

 There lies the rub. Many, if not most, decisions made in the food business today are not based on the common good or common sense, but on the whims of accountants and lawyers.

 Pink slime, meanwhile, has the meat industry reeling. Several plants across the country have quit production. Hundreds of people have been laid off. One company has already filed for bankruptcy. The governors of several Midwest states have gathered to rail against this smear campaign against “affordable, safe protein.” They accuse the “twitter twits” of mass hysteria, misrepresentation and a general blowing of things way out of proportion.

 Maybe. Never the less, people are freaked out. Not only are their hamburgers filled with disgusting fat scrapings, but they are realizing, maybe for the first time, that the people who make their food, fabricate their clothes, construct their shoes and brew their drinks give a damn about one thing and one thing only: profit.

Is pink slime really a way to provide cheap nutrition for a growing population? Or is it just another way to turn an extra buck? How much of it is imported to impoverished third world nations and how much is simply stuck in every product they can possibly stick it in? Increasingly we question the dynamics of our corporate state. Call us jaded, but we increasingly believe they will wheedle, lie, manipulate, poison, and scrape the last bit of fat off the last questionable hides to wring a few extra pennies out of the process–no matter what the cost to quality, ethics and morality. And all the while cutting pay and benefits to the people making the crap.

 While many blame social media for the pink slime hysteria and claim it is indicative of the senseless, inaccurate, unaccountable, destructive, rumor-mongering that is running rampant across the internet, I’m beginning to think it’s part and parcel of a larger grass roots movement, including OWS, that is growing in this country. Like the guy from the movie Network, we have reached our limit and pink slime is our battle cry.

 We’re mad as hell and we ain’t gonna eat it anymore.

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People freak out over some weird things(and that were known about years ago, as you stated! Damn social media!! PINK SLIME FOR THE WIN!! :D)
As Bill Murray said in Ghostbusters, "We've been slimed!"
Thank you for explaining! Although your rational, complete explanation wasn't nearly as sensational as the "they're putting fertilizer in your hamburgers!!" story I saw. I don't suppose your store has any stores in Missouri? I would go there.
Good for your store to care about the meat they sell. Maybe I need to invest in a meat grinder for my house. Mom used to have one.
Fantastic post! I've written a couple of blogposts on this very topic recently--one focusing on how the grocery chain where I shop (Stater Brothers) does not use the "lean beef trimmings". It received a thousand plus hits over a week of people doing specific searches for Stater Brothers and pink slime. I was glad to have done it.
And, over the years, I have posted here several times in my "Cheap Bastid" persona on getting excellent, fresh ground beef with minimal risk of any contamination by buying a boneless roast (bottom round, chuck or sirloin) when it is on special and having it ground (which Stater Bros. will do for free) and then dividing it into freezer bags when you get it home.
So, thanks for this. I agree. It's all about profit. I can live with it (but wouldn't buy it) if it were labeled clearly as containing this product as a "beef by-product" or an "additive". Consumers deserve at least that much. And our school kids deserve at least that much as well.
Excellent post, Monkey! It would be good even if it were not so timely. Amen to this point: "They are realizing, maybe for the first time, that the people who make their food, fabricate their clothes, construct their shoes and brew their drinks give a damn about one thing and one thing only: profit."
If I lived in Arizona, I'd buy my meat from you. :)
Walter, I've heard good things about Stater Bros. Grinding a fresh roast for someone is a good litmus test for a meat shop. They should do it free, gladly and with pride.
Thanks everyone for your kind words. I'll go to work in the morning (Easter Weekend!) with a little extra zip.
I saw a video not too long ago about a product called "meat glue". That was horrifying. Chunks of meat were sprinkled with a powder, mashed up into a roll and allowed to sit for a few hours. Then the roll could be cut and it looked like a normal steak. No one would ever guess it had been random chunks and end bits just hours before. The person using the powder had on gloves and a respirator because it was dangerous to breathe in the powder. Is there anything you can tell us about meat glue? How can I tell if a steak has been "created" rather than cut from fresh meat? If you can't touch it or breathe can you eat it?
I'd very much like to believe that you are right - that this is part of a larger grass roots movement.
If we could all get as mad about the corporate wheedling, manipulating, lying and poisoning for profit as those governors are about the pink slime "smear campaign", we just might stand a chance.
If the heads of these companies were willing to eat a burger made, pretty much exclusively, of pink slime on camera, and show that it was safe, they could defuse a lot of this. Why aren't they eating it?

If you think this is new, there's a song by the talented and cynical musical duo Paul and Storm called "Nugget Man," about the scientist who created chicken nuggets. And describes what's in them. Here's the song:
Nice article. The pink slime is just one of many examples that make me horrified to think that most peoples' food comes from industrial agriculture. Check this out

The chemicals they are injecting in pigs are making their manure grow a foam on the top that contains methane and is very explosive. But instead of changing the way they keep the pigs, they are going to inject them with a new drug to prevent the foam. Pure insanity. That's the way industrial agriculture works....
Your last sentence reminded me of a song . . . We ain't gonna eat greasy . . .
grimes . . .
gofer guts!
and SPAM!
any longer.
We eaters are weary of gagging when we visit the Bush's FDAs etc., MONSANTO!
Greedy CROOK!
O anymore-Longer!
FOOD INC. is a must.
View that documentary.
The goo is fake glues.
Congratulations. YEA, EP!
I wonder? We ditch all TV's.
WE can join a clown circus.

Grow leafy green lettuces.
No fight over garden arugula.
Lettuce is a `sativa' calm green.
We can swing on garden swings.
Tie hemp-rope in cotton woods.
That tree is safer than FDA/EPA.
The Greedy Corp Kill Copperheads.
Lettuce eat healing grub real victuals.
Pigs are grown fat under chicken coops.
The pork is lethal. Google` Vadana Shiva.
She is a physicist who travels and WARNS.
Plant a backyard garden. Michelle Obama?
email her staff and ask her to plant garlic.
I know where they buy their potato seed.
My son buts seed potatoes from the sane.
Honest . . .
My son said the White House potatoes are:
They come from Washington State. Healthy.
Root crops are heavily doused with chemicals.
The Center For Disease Control know this fact.
on and on . . .
Before the dang
computer gizmo
my focus was on:
Food Earth Safety.
No beast defiles.
Only greedy kill.
Be Forewarned.
Thanks. Sanity.
@Hula girl: I haven't had any experience with "meat glue." Some of the steaks I've seen that come in plastic "boxes" and vacuum-packed pouches are pretty grim. Stick to fresh cut steaks from the service case or steaks in foam and plastic that you know were wrapped in the store.
@ all: On one hand, killing large numbers of animals to feed a ravenous population is never going to be pretty. Somewhere, though, we've crossed a line. The genetic manipulation, the chemical feed, the economic bludgeon Big Ag uses on small communities isn't as necessary as they claim.
@Art. Thanks. Yes, Food Inc is must-see TV. It's less about animal cruelty as it is about corporate cruelty. And I'm increasingly convinced that Monsanto is Evil. Nice to know we have a former Monsanto exec on the Supreme Court.
Yes! Thanks for this informative read.
Thanks. Asked the same question today at Publix. Their ground beef bears label. Store ground. Hah....ever read about hot dogs and sausage? I don't have enough room in my condo to raise my own food. Will have to trust the food chains to deal with this. Too old to worry now.
@Andre. Just find a store you can trust. They're usually the ones that treat their employees the best. Publix is one of the good ones.
Rick Perry says the stuff is fine. I trust Rick, don't you?
Thanks for the info. I glossed over the controversy. I did not know what the issues were until I read this piece (and comments).
I don't know what all the fuss is about. At least pink slime isn't Soylent Green. Remember? Soylent Green is....people!
100 years ago, the only thing left from a butchered cow or pig was the oink and the moo. With our growing outrage of what we do not consider worth eating I wounder what the rest of the world thinks of our waste. When the story of pink slime hit the news, my concern was not that scraps of meat were used, but the use of ammonia needed to kill the bacteria because the meat had spoiled. That to me it is a story of more profit not providing cost effective protein for those who need food. It also made me wonder maybe pink slime is the result of our more and more for less and less consumer attitude.

In some ways the greed of corporate America is only a reflection of ourselves as consumers. We all want good jobs with benefits, but at the same time we want cheaper and cheaper goods including food. Maybe if we took a quality over quantity approach our food would be processed in store with butchers and bakers who earn a living wage with benefits instead of in factories with cheap labor using sub standard food to keep profits high and prices cheap. We cannot have it both ways.
M Todd: You sir, hit the nail on the head.