A few days ago, I asked Marion Nestle for a small favor and she graciously complied so I feel a little conflicted at disagreeing with some of her editorial comments about Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). She writes a column for the San Francisco Chronicle and on Friday created an excellent overview, done in a question and answer format, of the mostly erroneous beliefs surrounding LFTB.
First, I have to agree with her excellent definition of the product. In her column she wrote, “Pink slime is the pejorative term for ‘lean finely textured beef,’ a product designed to recover useful bits from carcass trimmings. These are warmed, centrifuged to remove the fat, treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill pathogens and compressed into blocks that are frozen for later use.”
But I’m blowing a whistle and throwing a flag on a potentially misleading statement she made a few paragraphs later. Because it’s just a technical infraction, I’ll only penalize her with a loss of down. She wrote, “For one thing, it solves an enormous problem for meat producers. Only about half the weight of the 34 million cattle slaughtered each year is considered fit for human consumption. The rest has to be burned, buried in landfills or sold cheaply for fertilizer or pet food.”
Let me clarify that statement for the casual reader who might mistakenly infer that half the meat from a cow is unfit for human consumption. “Half the weight” includes bones, the hide, the digestive tract and other bits and pieces. Those are the products that are used for medical purposes or become leather, gelatin, fertilizer and a thousand other things important to many other industries. There is a use for every part of the carcass; if the process is done right, nothing should be left to burn or sent to a landfill.
Next, Nestle wrote, “Here's the dilemma. LFTB solves a serious food safety problem. The meat trimmings that go into cheap hamburger are said to often be heavily contaminated with bacteria, some of them dangerous. The ammonia processing makes LFTB safe. “
“Often be heavily contaminated?” Whoever says that definitely got it wrong. The statistics I’ve seen say the bacteria on beef trim that might cause food borne illness is about the same as most other cuts of meat, vegetables, fruits and other foods consumed by humans. Producers of all foods are acutely aware of food borne illnesses. If they weren’t already aware, lawyers like Bill Marler have underscored the importance of the situation for them.