Inclusion of Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) in certain ground meat products has raised concern among some consumers partly as a result of the negative connotation associated with “pink slime” associated with the products. LFTB is an inexpensive, FDA-approved lean beef product made from low-valued fatty trim (50-percent lean). LFTB is first treated with an antibacterial agent (ammonia) to make it virtually pathogen free, and then combined with 90-percent lean beef and other fatty trim to produce ground beef and beef-based processed meats. The conversion rate of extra fat trim to LFTB is 3 to 1, or 3 pounds of fat trim to produce 1 pound of LFTB. Demand for LFTB recently declined following media reports portraying it as a seemingly unappealing additive to ground beef products.
These events followed former United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist Gerald Zirnstein’s March 2012 comment that 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets contained LFTB. In addition, ABC News’ report about the use of LFTB in retail beef products led to media coverage publicizing LFTB as pink slime, a term originally coined by Zirnstein in 2002. On March 21, 2012, Safeway, SuperValu, and Food Lion announced they would stop buying ground beef with LFTB (Avila, 2012). Soon after, Kroger, BI-LO/Winn Dixie, Giant, and Hy-Vee announced that they would discontinue stocking ground beef that contained LFTB. Costco and Whole Foods reported that they did not carry ground beef with LFTB, and Walmart stated that consumers would have the option to purchase ground beef with or without LFTB.
Some manufacturers of lean beef products have been affected by the actions of these retailers. Beef Products Inc. (BPI) manufactures LFTB, and Cargill produces finely texturized beef (FTB), a similar product. BPI announced in late March 2012 that it would shut down three of its four plants (Garden City, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; and Waterloo, Iowa) and lay off 650 workers due to reduced demand from supermarkets for ground beef containing LFTB (Keefe, 2012). It was estimated at that time that BPI’s average daily LFTB production capacity would drop from 1.5 million pounds per day to 700,000 pounds (Kay, 2012).
Fifty-percent lean beef trimmings, which come from fed cattle (steers and heifers), are blended with leaner processing beef and used to produce LFTB. Leaner processing beef comes mostly from cows, bulls, and imported processing beef, but a small portion does come from fed cattle. Since some lean processing beef and 50-percent lean beef trimmings are derived from fed cattle, supply effects on fed cattle prices are unclear.