Pink Slime and Consumer Choice

Cherylyn Harley LeBon
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Posted: Apr 18, 2012 1:20 PM
Pink Slime and Consumer Choice

Recently, we have been besieged with news reports about hamburger. The question is whether hamburger containing a type of meat called lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is safe and should be part of our diet. As a mom, this naturally raises a red flag, but before anyone decides whether to sell or serve hamburger with LFTB, it is necessary to discover and clarify the facts.

Contrary to many media reports, LFTB is beef — 95% lean beef to be exact.

It was approved in 2001 and is often blended with cheaper, fattier hamburger to increase protein levels. The immediate response by some people to sensationalized news stories about this topic, however, is to stop using the meat, which is also called “pink slime” by critics. It does not help that LTFB is unappealing to the eyes, but looks have never been a prerequisite to producing a popular meat product. For example, have you ever seen a chicken slaughtered? I have not and if I had, I am sure I would never view chicken the same way again.

My first concern is always safety and no one has proven that there are any safety problems with LFTB. Even critics are not asserting health or safety risks. Last month, Kevin Concannon, the Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer services at the Agriculture Department essentially said that LFTB is “safer, leaner, and less costly” than other types of ground beef. Additionally, a new University of Arkansas study shows that hamburger with LFTB reduces spoilage and improves the shelf life of hamburger in the refrigerator.

In spite of these facts, many grocery stores are exploiting consumer ignorance and have stopped selling hamburger with LFTB. This will result in increased hamburger prices. The same University of Arkansas study also found that eliminating LFTB will add 20 to 25 cents per pound to the price of hamburger.

Rising gas prices; higher priced consumer goods; and now increased meat prices are added to the list as parents find ways to balance their checkbooks in this challenging economy.

Consumers need a choice in what they buy and serve to their families. Some grocers, including Walmart and Hyvee already give consumers a choice between ground beef with or without LFTB. Each variety is labeled appropriately and lets shoppers make the decision. Some may think an extra 25 cents a pound is not much, but for low-income families this is an important factor. Moreover, why should families bear the cost placed upon them by food elitists who want to dictate what foods we should consume based on their standards?

In mid-March, USDA allowed school districts to decide whether to purchase meat blended with LFTB for their school lunch programs. Since LFTB is roughly 95% lean, it is often blended with cheaper hamburger to increase the cheap meat’s protein level. Schools now can choose to pay more money for hamburger that does not have the LFTB, but higher fat content, or use less taxpayer money for hamburger that is blended with LFTB and has less fat and more protein. With the alarming rates of obesity in our country and decreasing school budgets, I hope school districts choose the latter.

Grocers and beef processors can appropriately label their hamburger meat and allow families to make their own decisions. But if we allow the food elitists to define the narrative, it may be the consumers who are left with fewer options and higher prices.