The Problem with Governors Eating Pink Slime

Even 8,000 miles away, I’ve been unable to avoid hearing about “pink slime” – or, if you prefer, “finely textured lean beef” – and the resulting commotion being made as people come to learn that the ground beef they are buying often contains additives that have been treated in some disturbing ways.

Pink Slime 01

This week, a trio of governors (Brownback from Kansas, Perry from Texas, and Branstad from Iowa) visited a Nebraska meat processing plant owned by the ominously named Beef Products, Incorporated, with media in tow. To prove their claim that this finely textured lean beef is safe to eat, after their tour of the plant they ate hamburgers made from the meat additive.

Good for them, but their publicity stunt missed the larger issue. The question isn’t whether or not this finely textured lean beef meets the minimum standards of food safety. The question is whether consumers have a right to know whether the ground beef they are buying contains any of this highly processed additive.

Let me explain my rationale: When you go to the store and buy a pound of ground beef, or when you buy a “100% beef” hamburger at a restaurant, this is what you probably have in your mind:


You expect chunks of beef, perhaps with a little more fat than this picture shows, that have been ground. But if that’s all you expect, you may be in for a stomach-turning shock.

It has been reported that up to 70% of the ground beef sold in the United States has finely textured lean beef (a.k.a. “pink slime”) added to it and, of that ground beef, up to 25% of the total may be made up of the additive.

This additive is made from the stuff that’s left over once all the “meat” is cut off the cow’s caracas: stuff like connective tissue and spinal, rectal, and digestive lining. In the strictest sense, I guess it is “beef”… but it isn’t what I have in mind when I buy ground beef.

Now, my personal philosophy on food and nutrition is that we are better off when we eat food that has been processed as little as possible – ideally, not at all. Each step of processing robs nutrients from the food and generally increases the cost of the food.

Pink Slime 02

When I think of eating meat – and despite having spent a few years in university as a vegetarian, I’m definitely a meat eater – I would never want to eat any meat that has had to be sent through large rollers, as in the picture above, which shows how the finely textured lean beef is produced at the BPI plant. “Meat” that has to be sent through rollers can’t be a healthy choice, even if it meets the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of “generally recognized as safe.”

Pink Slime 03

Which is why I think at the heart of this matter – the heart that the merry trio of hamburger helper governors has missed – is a question of transparency, of consumers’ right to know, of truth in labeling. Something that is labeled as “100% ground beef” shouldn’t contain any finely textured lean beef… which we more accurately ought to call “ammonia bathed offal.” Instead, it should be labeled something like “ground beef with up to X% additives.” 

Again, I’m not saying that this product shouldn’t be allowed to exist on the market. I just think that we have a right to know what has been added to our food and how our food has been processed before we buy it.


0 thoughts on “The Problem with Governors Eating Pink Slime

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion regarding this topic and while I’m not from the U.S nor live there I hope for Americans to take a true stand regarding processed food. Even though Americans seem to have a much better awareness and seek truly organic food, their attempts seem to be unheard by the officials. It’s a vicious cycle that of health care(as in health insurance), education, and this. One that can be broken by providing actual organic food, I believe. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I agree with you. I think we should be able to know what goes into our food, which will better equip us with making the right nutrition choices for ourselves. Ground beef should be just that, ground beef. If there are additives, label it and let us choose!

  3. This is another good example about corporations putting dollar and cents (or sense) above anything else, I suppose. Having a hamburger is seldom on my menu for quite a long time, ever since I learned there are so many other “body parts” included in it.

  4. I like what HyVee is doing concerning this product.  They are leaving it on the shelves and labeling it.  HyVee is allowing the customers to make their own decision.  I will have no problem buying it.  (Except I eat very little beef.)

  5. @Randy7777 – Okay, what I’m really curious about is which packages they are labeling. Are they labeling the meat that does contain the additive with something like “Contains finely textured lean beef” or are they taking the easy way out and only labeling those packages that do not contain the additive?I did find an article about Hyvee’s decision and they have kind of a funny quote by one of the spokesmen: “They’ve sent us a clear message: They want a choice when it comes to ground beef…” My initial thought is, “Really? There are people out there who actually want to choose meat with the additive?”

  6. Earlier this week while listening to the radio during the drive home from work, one of the big processing companies stated that Americans wanting to eliminate this food product had no idea how doing so would make other beef products more scarce and cost more for everyone. Really?! YOU SHOULD HAVE NEVER PUT THIS crap OUT INTO THE MARKET IN THE FIRST PLACE!! Now it’s our fault? Incredulous!

  7. I am for honesty in labeling. I want to know what is in the package that I purchase. Personally, I buy a piece of beef and ask to have it ground. Ok, when at a fast food place – God only know what is in the burger! I do think even the methods of treatment for the product need be on the label. I am an organic food purchaser whenever possible. The other part of the story is bad PR to call it “Slime”.

  8. Point taken.But, I don’t think we should have any illusions about how any meat is processed. Ever been to a slaughterhouse, sausage factory, back room of the butcher’s shop…?

  9. I’m not really bothered by this product. Then again I eat chicken nuggets despite the fact that chickens don’t have nuggets. I also eat sausage and hot dogs. If people have a problem with this stuff they definitely shouldn’t eat salami, sausage, hot dogs, or any other processed meat.

  10. @AtheistInfidel – Thanks for your comment. I get your point that there are lots of processed meats out there – I make my own sausages so I understand the wide variety of meats that can make their way into a hot dog, for example. But I’m not sure that when folks go to the grocery store and buy something labeled “100% ground beef” that they have any indication that it qualified as a “processed” meat. They just think it is chunks of beef that have been ground up. Maybe I’m way off base, but it seems to me that clearer labeling is required.@Inciteful – Agreed that we shouldn’t be naive about meat processing… it isn’t a pretty process. But we should know when our “meat” is being bathed in chemicals and have the freedom to choose whether or not we want to buy it.@ElusiveWords – I remember seeing that demonstration. It drives home the point. I’ll be the first to admit that I eat a chicken mcnugget from time to time… but I do so fully aware of the extent to which it has been processed.@Fatcat723 – And that’s why I generally avoided the use of the word “slime” … no need to call names when having a discussion.@npr32486 – True… would like to see a video for that, too.@beowulf222 – If you look up “pink slime” on Wikipedia, they describe the manufacturing process. It is technically beef… or at least bits that were once a part of a cow. But there isn’t much meat there and it has been chemically treated to kill bacteria.@Leilani – Yeah, the cost of food argument is a red herring. Meat should be more expensive relative to vegetables. Processed foods need to be more expensive than whole ones. If we stopped taxpayer subsidies to corn and soy farmers we would see a food system where prices more accurately reflected the healthfulness of the food we ate.@CurryPuffy – It seems if you believe in the free market, you would want to end government subsidies for agribusiness. As you point out, though, there’s lots of money to be made by large companies and they are more interested in the money than the health of their consumers.@TheCheshireGrins – Seems to me to be a conservative stance, right? Be truthful about what you are selling and let the marketplace decide.@nov_way – All around the world we see the cycle repeat: the more a population eats highly processed food, the more incidences of health problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes we see.

  11. The food industry is just as corrupt as the oil companies, drug companies and banks. If they were as interested in making safe products we could afford instead of profits and buying off politicians, it would be a better world.

  12. i agree! makes me want to go out and buy a meat grinder so that i never have to buy ground mean again…reminds me a bit of michael moore’s documentary, food inc. actually, it reminds me of upton sinclair’s “the jungle.” hmm… glad i already finished eating dinner.i wonder, though, if we need to go one step farther back and demand that labeling include whether the animals are treated with steroids, hormones, antibiotics, etc. i know that some voluntary list that they don’t do this (so then i guess we must assume that everyone else does?). but i really would like to know what it is that i’m eating.

  13. It makes me glad that son#2 works in the meat department – they grind their own hamburger. (he grinds the hamburger) so when I asked about it his response was “We don’t use that stuff. Ours is all meat and some fat trim.” He said that was probably in the hamburger in the tube (the 5# cheap stuff). I think the honesty in labeling is necessary. It always takes time for the rules to catch up with public outcry…

  14. @christao408 – It’s really like squeezing the last bit out of the tooth paste tube. In this day we seem to have more and more of the “complexes” (such as the agricultural-food processing complex) that somehow don’t have our best interest in their mind.How do you make your own sausage? This would make a good blog entry.

  15. @beowulf222 – To extend the analogy, it would be like squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, mixing it with ammonia to kill any bacteria, then mixing it into a new tube of toothpaste without mentioning it on the label… =( As for the sausage making, here’s the original entry about my first experience making sausage.@murisopsis – Always good to know the butcher… or be related to him/her!@kunhuo42 – You’re absolutely right: labels should let us know more details about how the meat was raised, everything from antibiotics to growth hormones to confinement. What with technology these days, I should be able to scan a bar code (with the smart phone I haven’t bought!) and learn more about the meat I’m buying.@Ricardo98 – This is where you see, once again, the blurring between the large industries and the government agencies responsible for regulating them. A revolving door ensures that regulations favor the industries over the individual consumers.

  16. Interesting, and I agree with you about labelling, Just out of interest, if you were making burgers, would you buy the meat in its already ground beef state or would you buy the cuts and ground it yourself?

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