Pink Slime...my thoughts

This is one of Harry's pink-slime-free surprise burgers. For this session of burgers last summer, we used ground chuck from Lanning's in Mount Vernon. Locally owned, they source most of their meat from Ohio. Until I can afford my own grass-fed freezer beef, this is as close as it's going to get unless we grind our own (which we do on occasion).

I wrote a fact box for Yahoo! News this morning about the latest development in the pink slime saga and I'll link it here if they decide to publish it. Without too many details, I awoke this morning to see the news that Beef Products, Inc. had suspended operations in 3 of their 4 plants. The makers of the ammonia-treated lean beef trimmings used in filler in 70 percent of the ground beef in our country, after being badgered in the media, specifically by ABC News, and social media (I can't count the number of #pinkslime related things I've seen in the last few weeks) is, in a word, screwed.

I felt a bit of concern for the people who will lose their jobs if the suspensions become permanent closures. I don't like mass job losses of any sort - our economy is still struggling. But, one thing that has run through my mind several times over the last few weeks is "why now?" Why did it finally explode in the media and cause the purveyors of this crap to stop (or plan to stop) using it to cut costs?

It's not like pink slime is new. It's been around since about 2001 and approved for use as up to 15 percent filler in ground beef without benefit of disclosure. I learned about in April of 2011 during the season premier of "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". Jamie's demonstration is overly-dramatic, but it sent me searching. Yes, it's pretty gross to watch.

So, I did some digging. I put together a Q & A for Yahoo! News and while most of the comments from last year have been removed, it gained a lot of traffic. One of the most frequent comments, after "gross", was that people were unhappy to learn that their ground beef had this filler.

But, the status quo continued until late January. That's when McDonald's announced they would no longer use the filler in their hamburgers. In fact, they stopped using it last August. Other fast food chains stepped up to the plate and announced their own plans to discontinue the use of pink slime. But, that's not what brought down BPI.

I couldn't figure out why ABC was suddenly so relentless in its reporting of the issue over the last few weeks. After all, the New York Times had investigated the process and the company in 2009 and the "stunning" information revealed in the ABC and other media reports wasn't anything new. Why now?

Meet Bettina at The Lunch Tray. Food blogger, activist and creator of an online petition to remove pink slime from school lunches. When she launched the petition on March 6, Bettina hoped to convince the USDA to reconsider their decision to buy 7 million pounds of the filler to add to the school lunch program. She had over 100,000 signatures in four days. And, when something goes viral in social media, the mainstream media has no choice but to cover it. The petition worked in a way. The USDA will give school districts the choice to opt-out of the pink slime-filled beef. And, nearly every grocery chain in the country will discontinue selling pink slime-filled beef in response to customer concerns.

I picked the picture of Harry's surprise burger for a reason. That's how I felt last spring when I learned the government didn't think we needed to know that our ground beef contained this filler. It's not a matter of wanting the lean beef trimmings banned - I wanted them disclosed.

I learned something else when I stopped buying Kroger ground beef in the rolls and switched to Lanning's. We were in a pinch and had run out of ground beef and Lanning's was closed on Sunday. We decided to go ahead and run to Kroger because, as Harry had said months earlier, "We were already eating it all these years."

Harry makes GREAT burgers! He's a little unconventional, but they are always juicy and he grills them perfectly. These burgers, even though the only variable was the source of the beef, were practically inedible. They shriveled to nothing. The great beef taste we enjoyed from the Lanning's ground beef and our own ground beef was non-existent. Sometimes, you don't know what you're missing.

BPI, I sincerely hope your attempt at re-creating your image saves your company and all those jobs. I think you've got a hard row to hoe. If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to regret all that lobbying you did 10 years ago to convince the government to not require labeling of your process and filler. Let the consumer be informed and let the consumer decide for themselves. If lean beef trimmings were so healthy and delicious, why would you be ashamed of labeling them?

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