Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Can't Escape the Pink Slime

 In the spirit of context, I'm presenting a couple of more pieces on you know what.  Context doesn't usually makes things easier, but that's OK.  Don't forget it's not a process used in Canada, but does speak to the importance of what Raymond Loo is doing. The deadly strain of E-coli is partially caused by feeding grain rather than just grass to cattle.   The various links in the stories can be used if you click on the links on this page to the originating sites.

The Pink Menace

Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman on food and all things related.
Rick Perry — remember him? — was more inspired as a defender of the beef processing industry than he was as a debater. Last week, Perry — along with Iowa’s governor-for-life Terry Branstad and Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas — implored the media to end its “smear campaign” against pink slime, the ammonia-treated burger extender he’d rather have us call by the name used by its producers: Lean Finely Textured Beef.
Whether “pink slime” is a fair handle or not, public outrage has thrown it off a cliff. Some of the country’s largest grocery chains have announced that they will no longer sell products containing it, as did McDonald’s, while Wendy’s emphatically insisted that it never has. The United States Department of Agriculture, a major buyer of pink slime for its National School Lunch Program, has offered participating schools the option to order their beef with or without it, though it will likely remain in many schools.
As a result, the largest producer of the stuff, Beef Products Inc., has suspended operations at three of its four plants for 60 days, by which time it hopes to do some public relations hocus-pocus to restore consumer confidence before resorting to permanent closures. We’ll see.

A little review: Lean Finely Textured Beef was born about 10 years ago, as an attempt to eliminate E. coli from ground beef. Using fatty beef trimmings, which are especially susceptible to E. coli and salmonella contamination, B.P.I. created a product that could be sprayed with ammonia (yes, that stuff, referred to by B.P.I.’s former quality assurance manager as “Mr. Clean,” in this dramatic piece by Michele Simon) to kill the bacteria. It was then mixed with “normal” ground beef. Voilà: safe hamburgers.
Except that despite B.P.I.’s claim that the ammonia treatment killed E. coli and salmonella, and despite the U.S.D.A.’s support for this process, those pathogens have been found in B.P.I. meat.[1] Oops.
But there’s an irony: the stuff is gross, for sure, but it’s far from the most disgusting meat product out there, and at least its origins reflect an attempt to make meat safer. Some argue, correctly, that other processed meats are much worse, and that ammonia isn’t nearly the most egregious chemical that’s approved for use on meat without your knowing it.[2]
Besides, pink slime could conceivably even be helping: According to the Centers for Disease Control, E. coli O157:H7 illnesses are down 48 percent over the last decade. (And, as my colleague Andy Revkin points out, some 1.5 million additional cattle will need to be raised and slaughtered to fill the “pink slime gap.”)
Yet the public outcry over pink slime is justified, encouraging and impressively effective. (The response by some food safety officials that it’s misguided, and that only “experts” should be determining how food is processed, is shameful.[3]) And this is how it’s going to be from now on; public pressure will increasingly determine policy, and not only in food: “Before the Internet,” says Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer, “companies and governments simply made decisions, assuming the public didn’t need to know or even care what was in their food. That is no longer the case.”
But pink slime, as Grist writer Tom Laskaway says, is the tip of the iceberg; it’s a symptom, not a disease. Remember why it was originally created — to eliminate bacteria found in ground meat. The fact that pink slime was a “solution” might lead you to ask: What’s the problem?
The answer lies in the industrial production of livestock on a scale that’s far too large to sustain without significant collateral damage. E. coli, found in the digestive tracts of cattle, is common on factory farms where cattle are fed only grain. (Their stomachs are meant to digest grass.) The incomprehensible quantity of manure produced by these cattle — also often containing E. coli — is deposited on the land, sometimes seeping into the water supply; that’s how you wind up with E. coli in vegetables. To make matters worse, “healthy” farm animals are routinely fed so many antibiotics that E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens are developing resistance to commonly prescribed drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration  has just been given a golden opportunity — well, it’s a legal mandate — to remedy this. Ruling on a lawsuit brought last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a federal court decided that the F.D.A. must finally conclude whether the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to farm animals constituted a threat to human health. If the F.D.A. decides that it does, it must ban the practice altogether.
While the F.D.A. has — for the last 35 years — admitted the dangers of administering antibiotics to healthy farm animals, it has so far declined to act. Now we’ll see whether the agency has the fortitude to resist the pressure from the meat and drug industries and do the right thing. (Based on its recent decision not to ban the chemical biphenyl A  from food and drink packaging, I’m betting the bad guys win here, but I’d be happy to be wrong.)
The United States food system may seem more palatable when “pink slime” and many other forms of chemical processing are gone, but it won’t be any safer until we begin to seriously address the reasons they exist in the first place.

April 1, 2012, 10:06 am
Why I’m O.K. with ‘Pink Slime’ in Ground Beef

This is not an April Fool’s Day joke. I agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on something — the nutritional merits of derided “pink slime” — the processed last scrapings of meat and connective tissue after cattle are butchered. Dude, it is indeed beef — a source of low-fat nutrition.

The ammonium hydroxide that is added is safe and has long been used in foods from cheeses to pudding.

I’m all for open disclosure of food contents, but not when the labeling effort is aimed at fomenting fear over facts. (This issue goes far beyond beef byproducts; I encourage you to read this Colorado State University analysis of the issues surrounding labeling of genetically engineered foods.)

In my home, we rarely eat beef. And I’d love to see the day when all beef comes from free-range herds like the one up the road from me. [And there are always tasty vegetarian burger options, as Tara Parker-Pope noted this week.] But given that we’re not going to a meat-free society any time soon, and that kids need cheap sources of low-fat protein, I’d like those pushing the “yuck” factor to consider the extra 1.5 million or so head of livestock that will need to be slaughtered to fill the ground beef gap.

Then there’s the public health issue. I encourage you to click over to the Bucks blog and read Ann Carrns’ post. Here’s an excerpt and link:

    [N]ot everyone is cheering the demise of the hamburger enhancer. In fact, the Consumer Federation of America, an association of consumer-focused groups, sounds downright worried.

    “Today’s announcement by Beef Products Inc. that the company will suspend operations at three plants in the wake of the controversy over lean finely textured beef is unfortunate,” Chris Waldrop, director of the federation’s Food Policy Institute, said in a statement on Monday that used the food industry’s preferred name for the stuff.

    Unfortunate? Come again? What could be worse than ingesting ammonia-soaked cow scraps?

    Eating E. coli-infected cow scraps, Mr. Waldrop said.

Here’s how Elisabeth Hagen, under secretary of agriculture for food safety, summarized things not long ago (LFTB is the acronym for “lean, finely textured beef,” the industry name for the product):

    I believe it is important to distinguish people’s concerns about how their food is made from their concerns about food safety. The process used to produce LFTB is safe and has been used for a very long time. And adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume.

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