Grassroots Outrage Over Pink Slime Prompted Change

You are probably aware by this time of the “pink slime” scandal that was first exposed by Jamie Oliver last year and then picked up by ABC Evening News a few weeks ago. I remember thinking that it would be a story with legs when I first saw just the end of it on the news. I figured that this would be something that at least a vocal minority would see through to a conclusion. There are enough of us now who will react when we feel that our food supply is threatened.

More often than not, the threat comes the food industry itself, and probably more often than we would like, the governmental institutions that are in place to keep us safe and healthy fail to do that until after the facts have been revealed. In this case, we did not even know what we were eating.

This time, the backlash was enough to initiate a grass-roots check on the pink slime. The story did have legs; it moved to the Web and a petition drive begun by a mom in Texas also kept the story alive. And it worked. Almost all of the major food chains have announced that they are no longer selling beef with the additive or that they are letting us know which beef in their stores includes it. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped up big time and announced that school systems who buy beef from the government will now have the option to buy “pink slime-free” beef for our children.

A Tyson Food executive was quoted in the Wall Street Journal this week as saying that he expected this “fight” to affect short-term beef demand. In the same article, Cargill, Inc. indicated that “processors will have to secure other cuts of meat to replace the filler,” which hopefully would have to come from more of the meat in beef. Sounds to me as if those two predictions will create a zero-sum outcome. The best news is that Beef Products, one of the largest producers of the additive, is closing two of its three plants. And yes, the ground beef you buy at the grocery store may cost more, but at least you will be buying 100 percent meat this time around. You can always make up the increase in cost by eating ground meat one less meal a week.

Before I move on to my next point, let’s look at the last paragraph. First of all, in order to make myself clear I was forced to distinguish between beef and meat. We have been reduced to this parsing of terms because the beef industry wants us all to know that the pink slime is really beef. Hopefully that’s true, but the USDA scientists who named this “pink slime” make clear that it is not meat — it is not made from the parts of the cow that we would choose to chew if we saw these bits and pieces on the plate with our burger or steak. The industry spokespeople have yet to call it meat. And how many of you in your wildest food fantasies imagined eating beef with “additives” that our own government decided we did not need to know about?

According to an article by Jess Bidgood in the New York Times, larger school systems in the country are removing the ground beef they have on hand from their warehouses until they learn whether it contains the additive. As the Centreville Patch reported March 23, Fairfax County Public Schools has announced that it will switch to all-beef hamburger patties after it runs out of its current patties, which do contain the slime.

I will leave you with a quote from the New York Times article:

Even if removing pink slime quells the queasiness of some parents and school officials, it does not mean much to Fernando Castro, 14, who stood outside Brighton High School on Tuesday, waiting to leave school with some friends.

“I don’t eat school lunch anyway,” he said. “It looks weird.”

Some things never change. But we now know that we can change some things that alarm us, and in relatively short order, too.

See you at the market!