by Sue Kemple, The Wellness Wordsmith
Pink slime is all the rage these days.
But it’s taking some work for me to keep up with all the different places we find pink slime, and whether the slime is supposed to be chicken or beef.
In the past, I always thought of pink slime as that stuff McDonald’s used to make Chicken McNuggets.
Until I found out they haven’t been using it in the mechanically separated chicken for a decade.
But then I discovered they were using it in their burgers.
And now they’re not.
Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture came under fire for allowing pink slime to be used in public school lunches, even as the fast food joints were quickly abandoning it.
(You following this?)
But this month, pink slime took on a whole new political meaning, and I’ve begun to pay a bit more attention.
Now, you’ve probably at least caught wind of the recent uproar. The “pink slime” currently in the news is the less than appealing slang term for the more refined-sounding “lean, finely textured beef.” And until this month, it’s something you would have found in 70% of the ground beef carried in American grocery stores.
Why won’t you find it so easily now? In a nutshell, it goes like this: various activists (people concerned with health, food safety, the humane treatment of animals, etc.) drew attention to some standard meat processing practices at a company called Beef Products, Inc. Using social media tools such as Twitter, consumers and activists threatened spending boycotts and pressured retailers to discontinue using Beef Products Inc’s beef.
What’s so bad about the beef? Well, the low-grade trimmings used to produce the pink slime apparently come from the parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination by fecal matter, which is impossible to avoid in slaughterhouses where they process hundreds of cattle an hour. Because the fecal matter is what leads to the deadly e coli bacteria concerns (among other concerns), the company treats these parts of the meat with ammonia gas to kill it. Since the germs are killed with ammonia, the USDA has deemed the meat safe to eat. Activists aren’t exactly insisting that the USDA change that declaration, but they are insisting that the company should be required to put the fact that it uses ammonia to process its meat on the packaging’s labels.
The company, not surprisingly, is pretty miffed about the whole thing. The executives cited social media and news organizations for what they called a “gross misrepresentation” of their product and process. The practices, the company maintains, are safe and necessary in order to be able to keep up with the nation’s overwhelming demand for beef. And the idea that they should label it as anything but beef really has them riled up.
“What should we label it? It’s 100 percent beef,” said executive vice president Regina Roth. “I’m not prepared to say it’s not beef because it’s 100 percent beef.”
Not so, say two former scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After reviewing the product, they advised against using it in ground beef, saying it was not the same as ground beef and not as nutritious. The company fired back, saying it had “substantially identical nutritional value.”
Which may or may not be true. Who can really know for sure?
What IS true is that for the next two months, the company is going to be spending most of its resources not on processing beef, but immersed in a public relations campaign intended to restore the public’s confidence in its products, and to assure us that their meat is indeed safe for consumption.
(Do you have a headache yet? How about an ache in your stomach?)
This whole mess has farmers and food processors understandably concerned. They maintain that they are being sabotaged by activists who have infiltrated farming operations to pull back the curtain on what they do. Which is hard to dispute; after all, it’s been the saboteurs who’ve shown us what the processing plants don’t want us to see, and what frankly none of us would WANT to see.
It’s ugly. It’s revolting. And if it doesn’t get you to want to change what you eat, I don’t know what would.
The root of the furor can be found, of course, in politics – in government officials who want to be re-elected, farmers who stake their livelihood on meat production, and industry employers and employees who don’t want to lose their businesses/jobs in an already struggling economy. There are lots of valid concerns in these arenas, with no easy answers.
But, honestly… is the right answer sticking with a process where ammonia is added to our food supply, to kill bacteria that festers because of the way we treat the sickly livestock whose meat is already inferior because of how they’ve been raised – fed with grains instead of grass and injected with hormones to grow them more efficiently, but less nutritiously? Where is the common sense in that?
Personally, I’m not one to look to the government for my answers when it comes to much of anything – especially not when it comes to what I should eat. And the good news for you is, you don’t have to, either. If you understand that we don’t need to consume nearly as much meat as the USDA has led us to believe (or frankly, any meat at all!), then cutting back or eliminating your consumption is an excellent way to take charge of your own situation. And if you do eat meat, you can find farmers near you who raise their animals the right way, and bring you untainted, truly all natural and 100% beef (or chicken, or pork). You don’t have to touch the pink slime. Ever.
But the bottom line is that all this excessive meat consumption in our society is bad for our health, and bad for our planet. Even if it’s good for our economy, our economy won’t much matter when we’re all dead from heart disease, and the Earth is destroyed.
You might not be able to avoid the pink slime in the news. But you can avoid it on your plate. The choice is yours.