2012-04-05 / Opinion

The real beef with ‘pink slime’


Consumers are always right, even when scientific evidence says they are wrong.

The lesson apparently went right over American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle’s corporate head — at least concerning the lean, firmly textured beef product that has come to be known as “pink slime.”

The process used to make this product is straightforward. Bits and pieces of beef — scraps, really — are heated to about 100 degrees and spun to remove nearly all the fat. What remains is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat products.

Consumers and many institutions were shocked when they learned that they had purchased and used meat containing this product. The resulting revulsion has caused grocery stores to say they won’t carry meat containing the product, and many schools, when given the option, are opting out.

The resulting loss of demand for the product affected Beef Products Inc., which has operations in Texas, Kansas and Waterloo, Iowa. Two hundred people lost their jobs.

Boyle, acting to defend the industry, used a press release to rail against the news media.

“Congratulations, ABC World News,” Boyle stated. “Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast ... The frenzy of misinformation that has swirled during the last several weeks gives new meaning to Winston Churchill’s great quote, ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.’”

Feel sorry for the beef-packing industry if you care to. Certainly workers who at least temporarily lost their jobs as the result of the controversy are in a tough spot.

However, the people who may ultimately pay the greatest price for this product — created simply to add a few pennies of extra profit per pound — are the cattle producers who have worked so hard to build beef ’s image.

They have paid $1 each time a beef animal is sold, in a mandated checkoff to promote their product. Millions of dollars have been collected over the years. Although recession and higher meat prices have driven consumer demand down, most industry observers say checkoff promotion dollars have been effective.

Beef production is especially important in southeastern Minnesota, where rolling hills and fragile soil make grain production unsustainable on otherwise-fertile ground.

Boyle’s tirade aside, consumers are indeed always right. They don’t want to eat “pink slime” or “finely textured ground beef” treated with ammonia.

The media and misinformed scientists didn’t cause this debacle. Foisting a product on an uninformed public did. We are left to hope that beef producers aren't damaged by the fallout.

— Post-Bulletin of Rochester, (Minn.)


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