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.
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.
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.”
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.