Pink Slime and the Slimy Tactics of America’s Food Elitists

by Greg Conko on April 3, 2012 · 49 comments

in Agriculture, Culture, Features, Nanny State, Precaution & Risk, Zeitgeist

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Last week, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor wrote a nice article examining how the mainstream media has been complicit in smearing lean finely textured beef — what critics are calling “pink slime.” “ABC has covered the story almost round the clock in recent weeks with stories on ‘World News with Diane Sawyer’ and ‘Good Morning America’,” Gainor reported. Versions of the story have been picked up by dozens of major and minor newspapers around the country. And most television and radio news programs have covered it as well.

On Sunday, however, The New York Times‘s Andrew Revkin became what appears to be the first major media figure to debunk the misinformation campaign in a blog post entitled, “Why I’m O.K. with ‘Pink Slime’ in Ground Beef.”

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.

One of Revkin’s sources, a historian and blogger named Maureen Ogle, explains the issue well:

“First a word about PS: It’s beef, people. Plain ol’ beef. It’s created by using a deboning process that removes every last morsel of flesh from beef carcasses. During the cutting, slivers and bits of bone end up with the beef, but those are reduced to mush in the processing that follows. … In the BEEF industry, its use dates back to the mid-1970s, although poultry and fish processors were already using the technique. Beef packers began using in the in mid-seventies because, at the time, all meat prices, but especially beef, were in the stratosphere. … So pushed by consumers on one side, and soaring costs on the other, meatpackers asked for, and got, permission from the USDA to use a “mechanical deboning” process that allowed them scrape meat off carcasses so that what had been waste could be eaten.”

Although critics are calling pink slime an unsafe food additive that ought to require mandatory labeling wherever it appears, the fact of the matter is, lean finely textured beef is exactly that: beef. And, compared to other ground beef, LFTB is probably better for consumers. It is processed in a way that removes much of the fat — thus the “lean” part of its name. And beginning around the early- to mid-1990s, following a foodborne illness outbreak linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers, processors began treating LFTB with tiny amounts of the common food disinfectant ammonium hydroxide to kill germs, thereby substantially reducing consumers’ exposure to foodborne pathogens.

You might think that the food nannies who complain about high-fat, calorie-dense food served in institutional settings such as school cafeterias would embrace a product that is lower in fat and largely pathogen free. But you’d be wrong. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a self-righteous, elitist git who’s been whining about high-fat school food for years, praised the pink slime propaganda campaign for getting LFTB removed from scores of school cafeterias. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, Oliver added, “I hope the U.S. government is also listening because it’s partly responsible for lying to the public for allowing this cheap, low-quality meat filler to be used for so long without having to legally state its presence on packaging.”

In a surprising move, though, the Consumer Federation of America took a positive stand, issuing a statement that “CFA is concerned that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. We are also concerned about the potential chilling effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety.”

Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the point. Food elitists like Jamie Oliver and Marion Nestle, who seemingly has never met a new technology she didn’t ridicule, aren’t interested in promoting safe, nutritious, and cheap foods per se; they want us all to eat the fruits of some idealized, pastoral perfection — you know, things that aren’t icky. “Culturally we don’t eat byproducts of human food production,” says Nestle. “It’s not in our culture. Other cultures do. We don’t.”

Our culture doesn’t do that? What’s next on her hit list? Sushi? Kiwi fruit? Kopi Luwak? Well, I have news for Marion Nestle: Our “culture” didn’t eat those things either … until we did. Cultures adapt, innovate, learn. That is, we try new things. And when we find things that work well, taste good, and are safe, we adopt them as our own.

In short, the attack on so-called pink slime is one more example food activists’ willingness to attack and mislead consumers about whatever it is that they personally dislike, the facts be damned. So, I’ll continue to eat ground beef products that contain lean finely textured beef. I encourage you to do the same. And if Jamie Oliver ever comes for my scrapple, he’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Erik April 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm

You can eat eat all of the ammonia-infused near-beef that you want. I just ask that things are clearly labeled so that I can make my own food choices.

The media did no disservice by making this process known and making consumers more knowledgable about their choices. It’s not that it was “demonized” as much as it was simply that the story was picked, up, chewed up, amplified, and spit back out again by the US media machine the same way that any story that it deems “viable” is overexposed.

PS I call it “near-beef” because it is from parts of the cow that we would not normally be eating. So yes, it is 100% from a cow (and treated with ammonia), but “beef” is generally reserved for the parts of the cow that are consumed. You wouldn’t serve jellied cow hooves and call it “beef.”

Dean April 4, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Ever had any soup made from beef stock? Would you call it near-beef stock?

Craig April 5, 2012 at 6:34 am

Uhhh the meat in question is from the same cuts that are served in normal ground beef. It’s just the meat that is stuck to the bones, that needs to be removed with a mechanical deboning process. Because there is not a huge amount of beef removed per animal in this way, many animals worth of beef needs to be combined. This leads to a higher risk of contamination, so they apply a bit of ammonia to remove the the concern of contamination.

The beef used is the same beef you would make a stock out of. The bits and pieces stuck to the bones of the animal after you butchered it.

As the article has stated, the beef used is more lean – and it leads to a noticeably higher yield of meat per cow slaughtered, important when we’re trying to feed children for cheap.

And finally this idea that ammonia is somehow bad for you, or unusual to use in food is just misinformed. Ammonia compounds are used in all kinds of cooking. Some common uses: Leavening agent in baked goods, acidity control in the creation of cheese, anti-bacterial agent in various factory created foods. Ammonia has been approved by the FDA for 40 years, and was in general usage long before that.

So if you don’t want to eat this stuff, fine, whatever. But don’t go around spreading misinformation and fear about how it is, “Unhealthy.”

Sigivald April 4, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Culturally we don’t eat byproducts of human food production

What does she think a god-damn sausage is (besides admittedly also a preservation technique)?

Or chicken soup, made to make the otherwise useless bits of a chicken carcass useful?

Maybe her very specific ahistorical foodie bullshit culture doesn’t eat “byproducts of human food production”, but every historical culture has done just that.

Because the alternative was starving to death.

Kai April 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

If you want to be a Tyson chicken kid, by all means go and do it, but seriously: label food that contain industrially manufactured contents. It might not matter to you, but to many it does. If you want meticulously sculpted burgers that have the grace of a Bugatti Veyron and the flavor of a ramen noodle salt package, have at it. You get what you pay for.. $3.99 for 12 ounces of chicken nuggets or $3.99 for the whole bird (and its apparently otherwise useless carcass.) ಠ_ಠ

Label that crap so those of us who wish not to eat it can do so without trouble at the grocery store.

Marshall April 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I’m confused. If revealing the actual contents of a food product, and the methods for creating this product, results in reduced demand for the product and calls for more explicit labeling, how is this “smearing”? Isn’t this alleviating information asymmetries and allowing consumers to make a more informed decision about their food choice? Would the alternative be less information about manufactured food processes? Is this better? This seems like a very odd position for proponents of open markets to take.

Dean April 4, 2012 at 8:01 pm

It would help if the benefits of “Pink Slime” are told alongside the disadvantage. Saying that it is treated by ammonia sounds horrible, unless you also mention that ammonia is used in the production of cheese and chocolate and that it is rendered chemically inert in the very next step.

Calling it pink slime is genius, because no one wants to eat pink slime. Pointing out that there is absolutely no difference between pink slime, chicken nuggets, and a McRib (other than the animal it came from) seems to have no effect.

Then of course, LFTB has significant benefits as well. More of the cow is used so fewer cows are slaughtered and all beef products become comparatively cheaper. The product is safe to eat, safer than less treated products. The product is healthy to eat, healthier than less treated products.

Most of the coverage starts with “it has a name that sounds horrible,” goes to “it is treated in this way that sounds horrible” and ends with “here are these places the government forces you and your children to eat it.” The perfect formula for manufactured outrage.

Marshall April 5, 2012 at 10:16 am

“Calling it pink slime is genius, because no one wants to eat pink slime. Pointing out that there is absolutely no difference between pink slime, chicken nuggets, and a McRib (other than the animal it came from) seems to have no effect.”

I’m not sure this really supports your point. There’s been quite a bit public recoiling about the contents of meat-based food items from places like McDonalds, and they have responded rationally by boosting the amount of “less processed” meats (“mystery meat”, another “manipulative” label/”smear”) on their menu (the McNugget and and breast strips, for instance). This was in response to a better understanding of the manufacturing process and its ingredients, notwithstanding this stuff is safe, widely used, and reduces costs. So, greater transparency about this, leads to better labeling and, importantly, better price discrimination on behalf of the seller.

I’m still struggling to understand how this isn’t an archetypal demonstration of an open market proponents’ vision of how markets should work.

Annette April 5, 2012 at 10:51 am

Excellent points, Dean. It’s like Bastiat’s broken window; always a good idea to look at it from the other direction. Thx.

Scooter April 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm

its sounds to me that you are complaining about consequences that the manufacturers should have and could have addressed themselves ahead of time. Instead, they anticipated that revealing this information would not have benefited them and therefore they chose not do reveal them. Now that the information has been revealed, they are complaining that the “pink slime” camp has successfully taken over the agenda and the messaging, and has tainted, what you call, a superior product. Should we send you a tissue or should they (you) spend a little more money to hire a better, more responsive, and more attentive PR firm? You cannot promote the market in one instance and then complain about it when it doesn’t conform to your preferred outcomes. You have to take some responsibility.

Mike April 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm

In the 80′s spent many summers working on my family’s cattle ranch in south dakota, so “pink slime” (we called it hubba-bubba-beef) is no revelation for me. What is surprising, is how widely it’s used and the fact there’s little disclosure. Frankly, if i buy ground beef, i don’t want LFTB, TVP, hydrolysate or anything else. If processors are so comfortable with it, be more transparent. No one likes being surprised except, occasionally, on birthdays.

Juan Gamboa April 5, 2012 at 6:07 pm

All this call for transperancy is like Obama’s transperancy, just rhetoric. Pink Slime is meat from the bone. How many of you have never gone through chicken bones or a t-bone from a steak? If you do not want to eat that stuff, including the additives, shut the hell up and do not eat it. The rest of us do not mind and frankly are grateful that more food can be produced: I am from a 3rd worl country were a starving child would not ask and would be thankfull.

David April 5, 2012 at 1:40 am

I also think the controversy is overblown but like the scientific american article pointed out, the PS does contains a large percentage of insoluble protein compared to regular chuck. The article mentions 70% as opposed to 30% insoluble protein. I think that that it should affect the rating quality of the ground chuck if pink slime is included because it does affect the quality of the meat you are purchasing. As far as safe to eat I don’t really see any strong reason it isnt safe to eat and a method for reducing food costs in certain situations. I think we should feed beef with more soluble protein to our kids in school though.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/03/27/pink-slime-deconstructed/

addicted April 5, 2012 at 4:42 am

Ironic that the website “Open Market” is complaining about consumers turning down a product when they find out what it actually is…

The consumers may not be making a thoughtful, but rather an emotional decision, but hey, efficient markets, and rational actors and all…

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 8:31 am

Since you’re speaking to idealized models, you forgot “perfect information,” which means the rational actor isn’t relying on as truth the misinformation spread by the Jamie Olivers of the world.

Marshall April 5, 2012 at 11:58 am

You’re cherry-picking one side of the asymmetry to grouse about. The previous equilibrium was an asymmetry between consumer and producer, without the consumer knowing anything about the manufacturing process and the actual contents of the product and, I’d bet, the producer being unwilling to reveal this information. Now that it’s been revealed, this asymmetry has been relieved, and some consumers are uncomfortable with the food product. Which is fine.

Now, it’s industry’s turn to respond, by either counteracting this narrative (“hey, this stuff isn’t so bad” That’s what lobbyists and industry groups are for, and think god for parochial politics and self-interested governors), or by recognizing a shift in the market, and offering more transparent labels, and greater price discrimination for less manufactured food (i.e., charge people more money for more “pure” stuff). This is really not much different than the popularization of organic food, with generally safe farming methods relying on pesticides being demonized, and some really specious “organic” labels cropping up to exploit and capitalize on these concerns.

It feels weird having to say this on a blog devoted to open markets, and I’m embarrassed to slip into all caps, but: THIS IS HOW MARKETS SHOULD WORK.

Jacob April 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

+1

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Re-posted from below:

The consumer outcry is being driven by a misinformation campaign, not by new information that should be treated as relevant to health and nutrition (or, say, animal welfare) by consumers who are comparing different products. You’re right about price discrimination — this would be a way for producers to charge higher prices to a segment of misinformed “informed consumers” by selling a higher-priced “pure” product that is essentially the same as the lower-priced “tainted” product.

josh roberson April 5, 2012 at 9:45 am

What exactly does open market mean? It seems you’re advocating it meaning keeping secrecy about what exactly is in a product – open for producers, but closed to consumers. If producers want to take the low quality mushed and chemically treated gristle and sinew scrapings and call it “lean finely textured beef” i’m all for it as long as I know what it is i’m getting. I don’t expect my ground beef patties to be chemically treated mush, or even partly so unless I’m informed.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 11:11 am

Chemically treated? *GASP* Stay away from the dihydrogen monoxide.

Ken Rhodes April 5, 2012 at 12:02 pm

C’mon, now, Marc. It’s not unreasonable to ask for labeling. The FDA requires a label if the meat you eat has that dihydro-stuff added. They even require telling how much is added.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Labeling should be risk-based, not politics- or superstition- or idiocy-based. Since there is no significant difference between ground beef sold in supermarkets that contains LFTB treated with ammonium hydroxide and ground beef that does not, consumers should not be led to believe there is a significant difference. There just is not. LFTB is beef.

josh roberson April 5, 2012 at 12:31 pm

IF there are chemicals used I should be informed. Since you’re not an “elitist” you may not care what chemicals go into your body, but some of us do. Ammonium hydroxide may be safe, but the point is I DESERVE TO KNOW WHAT IS IN MY FOOD (sorry to yell but you seem to be avoiding the real point)

BTW -They do actually label meat when water has been added to it.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Should all beef carry a label informing consumers that it naturally contains ammonia? Should all food products carry detailed chemical composition information certified by independent laboratories? Not only would that be irrelevant information to the vast, vast, vast majority of consumers who wouldn’t be able to interpret it, compliance costs would put every single “organic” small-scale “whole foods” charlatan commercial farmer out of business while dramatically increasing the prices of food.

BTW – “Absorbed water” and “retained water” is labeled to allow consumers understand and compare the weight differences in packaged meats. Ammonium hydroxide is not an additive/ingredient, nor does it affect significantly any product characteristics; it is used as a processing aid.

Marshall April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm

This is really a shocking position for a libertarian/economic conservative to take. I feel as though you’re moving the goalposts in the ongoing battle between regulation/non-regulation of industry.

Typically, the way this works is that there is some sort of discovery about how something is produced or the dangers of using some sort of products (cigarettes! hydrogenated oils!), and consumer groups demand government regulation, libertarian folks push back and say, no, consumers just need more information about the dangers and contents of the products. There’s no need for government intervention. But, here, remarkably, conservatives, despite there not really being strong calls for more regulation of this stuff, are complaining about demands for transparency and labeling that are being made. And, now, you’re complaining about average consumers not being sophisticated enough to understand the labeling. But this is trope that libertarians rely on! That’s how they argue against regulation! People are rational and if you just give them information, they’ll make an informed decision! Private health care markets can work if they just had more information!

I feel like this is bizzarro world.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

@ Marshall

There is nothing materially significant to disclose to consumers regarding LFTB. That’s just a fact; sorry if that offends. The only people who would gain from such labeling would be the snake oil salesmen who make a living off of lying to consumers (Marion Nestle, Jaime Oliver, much of the “organic” industry) about nutrition.

Marshall April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@Marc:

“There is nothing materially significant to disclose to consumers regarding LFTB. That’s just a fact; sorry if that offends. The only people who would gain from such labeling would be the snake oil salesmen who make a living off of lying to consumers (Marion Nestle, Jaime Oliver, much of the “organic” industry) about nutrition.”

This is demonstrably untrue. Not to get all tautological, but consumers’ response to how this food is created is evidence that there was something “materially significant” to disclose. What’s more, the people who would gain from this aren’t just organic proponents: it’s industry that is able to capitalize on this discontent. That’s what price discrimination is. They can charge more for products that don’t rely on this process (see the chicken breast strip example cited above). And, this is fair, because it costs more to produce.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Sorry, I suppose it would be more accurate to say “there is no significant difference between ground beef with LFTB added and ground beef without.” The consumer outcry is being driven by a misinformation campaign, not by new information that should be treated as relevant to health and nutrition (or, say, animal welfare) by consumers who are comparing different products. You’re right about price discrimination — this would be a way for producers to charge higher prices to a segment of misinformed “informed consumers” by selling a higher-priced “pure” product that is essentially the same as the lower-priced “tainted” product.

Marshall April 5, 2012 at 10:47 pm

But, it’s not. It’s absolutely untrue, and tendentious to suggest otherwise, that ground chunck adulterated with “pink slime” is the same as beef without it. Nonetheless: it doesn’t really even matter. If consumers find this process unappealing, and want beef without this supplement, then retailers should respond rationally.

Put another way, and to reinforce what I said earlier: you can’t cherry-pick what type of irrationality/information asymmetries you deem permissible. Consumers buying ground beef without knowing how it is produced and what it contains is an asymmetry. As a libertarian, you’re ok with this, which is weird. But, when consumers have full information about these processes, then you object to “misinformation campaigns”, even though they’re presumably sophisticated, rational actors who can sift through this stuff, and adjust their behavior. Which really leads to the rub of the issue: would there have been any way for a news organization to reveal these processes in a manner that would comply with the rigid standards of information disclosure required by libertarians?

josh roberson April 5, 2012 at 9:51 am

Also wanted to add that calling people “elitist” who wish to eat healthy, whole food products instead of mechanically separated and highly processed foods is a nice smear tactic to use when you appeal to us “regular folk” who want just want cheap food-like products to keep us from starvation. But only “elitists” use propaganda right?

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

Apparently, dramatically reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses for people with smaller food budgets and different tastes than you doesn’t count as “healthy” anymore.

Tom Woolley April 5, 2012 at 11:04 am

When the subject of other foreign cultures consuming cuts or portions of an animal that is not suited for the American mainstream consumer is a long way from fact. The American Latino community offers a couple delicious menu items, minuto and choriso. Both are equally yummy, one is the belly and the other is parts stuffed, inside the gut. Mmmm, I like it.

Ken Rhodes April 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Hmmm … Polish sausage, Italian sausage, country sausage, hot dogs, bologna, salami, scrapple, … it isn’t only a single ethnic group of Americans who eat meat products they don’t ask too many questions about, and might not enjoy watching being made.

Anonymous Humanitarian April 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I would think that the bits of stuff stuck to bones after a mechanical deboning would contain a lot of “ligaments”: (1. [anatomy] any one of the bands or sheets of tough fibrous connective tissue that restrict movement in joints, connect various bones or cartilages, support muscles, etc.), and “tendons”: 1. [Anatomy] . a cord or band of dense, tough, inelastic, white, fibrous tissue, serving to connect a muscle with a bone or part; sinew.
[the above taken from Dictionary.com]
Are ligaments and tendons really as healthy to eat as muscle? And what about all the slivers of bone mixed in, mashed up enough so that it doesnt’ feel hard. Are we evolved to digest bone? I imagine digesting a tendon or ligament would be about like digesting a rubber band, but I’m no expert.

Open market advocates are going to have a hard time making their philosophy jive with opposition to information, though they can insist that the information be accurate. But this raises some philosophical worries about “freedom of information” aspect of open market philosophy in general:
Can a person(consumer) make sense of infinite information? Can’t useful information be made more obscure and harder to find by burrying it in mountains of non-useful information? How to fit infinite writing on product packaging anyway? How, then, to filter informatioin to isolate what is useful. It’s a subjective question, as “usefulness” varies by individual. Clearly choices have to be made. More information is not always better. Just look at search engine technology such as Google.com. Is 2 million hits better than 1 million? Not really. Its about getting the ‘right’ information and avoiding the clutter.
So, do concerns over “PS” warrent requiring food processors to lable for it (regulation). Is that important enough information? Maybe. I dont know. Personally, I don’t care to eat ligaments and tendons. I’ll leave that an open question.
But the “more information is bettter” argument can not really survive far into the “information age.” We’d be swamped by data, not to mention burried in red tape.

Indy April 5, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I support labeling because, knowing what it actually is, eating “pink slime” doesn’t bother me at all, and I actually prefer an extremely-lean and depathogenized product. Right now the industry gives us a mixed product at an average cost. We can assume that a “pure”, non-deboning (NDB) product would cost more, and an “all LFTB” product” costs less.

But consider the welfare economics – since I don’t care about the difference between a mixed and an all-LFTB product (or actually prefer LFTB), my consumer surplus is being eroded by not having that choice available. But an individual who wants an NDB product and is willing to pay more for it (like the Organic or Fair-Trade specialty or niche food markets) would probably have at least equivalent welfare despite the higher price.

So what you need is a market model. What is the total level of production happens at what prices with and without labeling given different population distributions of NDB, indifferent, and LFTB-preferring consumers? Furthermore, with such a model you could analyze the “aggregate welfare effect” of one of these food-elitist simultaneous combined-media campaigns as they “increase awareness” (or “increase belief” in ideas, maybe true, maybe false) and shift the preference distribution.

Marc Scribner April 5, 2012 at 8:13 pm

No one retails an “all-LFTB” product because that isn’t why LFTB is used. By itself, the texture wouldn’t be appealing to most consumers. It is *added* to normal chuck because there is fundamentally no difference in the outputted product of hamburger meat when it is used as an ingredient. The product sold on shelves with LFTB added maintains the texture and taste that consumers expect at the going market price for ground beef. It’s that simple. But if 15-20 lbs of quality meat was discarded from every bovine carcass because consumers ignorant of how real-life beef production actually happens demand that “pink slime” be removed (because 80 percent of America is now urbanized and thinks food magically appears on their dinner table at the prices they pay at the supermarket), well, that means higher prices for consumers. If producers remove LFTB, I expect to hear idiots whine about ground beef price-gouging and for “60 Minutes” to do an “exposé.”

Dave April 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm

There will be LFTB positive and LFTB negative ground beef, and consumers will pay more for LFTB negative if they want. The consumer makes decisions based on their utility, not yours. You are elitist if you believe that you know their preferences better than they do, or that your preferences are somehow more important or more correct than theirs.

Marc Scribner April 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

Don’t be ridiculous. The only reason Greg wrote this piece and I am responding to you online is that idiots were given media attention to lie and mislead consumers on LFTB. Marshall’s making this out to be some libertarian standoff and you’re claiming I’m an elitist because I don’t want consumers making dumb, uninformed decisions shaped by morons like Jamie Oliver and Marion Nestle. You may like to see people being screwed by con artists, but I don’t. In reality, I may be a libertarian, but I just don’t want to see people manipulated by liars and kooks. LFTB is both perfectly safe and unnoticeable when added to normal chuck. End of story. Again I ask, should all beef be labeled to inform consumers that it naturally contains ammonia? Or detailed descriptions of normal slaughterhouse practices?

Dave April 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

If people are grossed out by LFTB, and you dismiss this as dumb and uninformed, then you are elitist. Each consumer makes choices based on their utility, not yours. They didn’t know about it, now they do. Now they make a choice based on their preferences. End of story. Some people buy brand name drugs that are exactly the same as their generic equivalents. Are they dumb and uninformed? Should we remove labeling that allows the consumer to tell the difference between the two?

Marc Scribner April 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm

What you don’t seem to grasp is that consumers who have heard of “pink slime” probably *don’t* know about the actual risks, costs, and benefits of blending in LFTB to chuck. They heard scare stories from Luddite idiots screaming about a *bad* product being force-fed to children. To call those of us who have a clue “elitists” because we call the scaremongers on their lies, well, I suppose you also think *The Jungle* was a disinterested piece of nonfiction journalism on the state of early 20th century meat industry practices?

Indy April 6, 2012 at 4:08 am

“By itself, the texture wouldn’t be appealing to most consumers.”

If they can turn perfectly good soybeans into Tofurky and sell it to people who claim it’s “good” then … but seriously, after “Pink Slime” hysteria sweeps the nations and there’s a gigantic surplus of the stuff available that needs off-loading, I have full faith in the capacity of America’s food engineers to gin up some ultra-cheap concoction that is appealing to consumers, or, at the very least, consumers like me.

Or, perhaps, consumers abroad. Many cultures – those of East Asia comes to mind – have very different texture palettes than what’s common in the West, indulging in items far too gooey and slimy for most Americans. I remember reading something (probably advocacy, so take with a grain of salt) about the market for chicken being similar – basically the US demand for white meat so outstrips that for dark that the domestic markets don’t “clear” at world prices, so most of the surplus dark meat goes frozen overseas (the effect of which has been to crush more than a few local poultry industries which could not compete with “get whatever you can for it” prices). Is this the destiny of our precious LFTB? I guess it is.

Larry April 12, 2012 at 12:52 am

I consider myself a libertarian and I am appalled by the lame offerings of the author and Mr. Scribner. Between the argumentum ad hominem attacks on ‘elitists’ who brought this matter to the public’s attention, to the flip-flopping on who should determine what information they (the public) should have -”We’re for a free market, but we’re also against you stupid consumers being allowed to make up your own minds about this issue, so we want to deny you clear labeling that would let you do just that”, I have yet to hear a rational justification for denying the public clear and accurate information about what they’re buying and eating. If you ARE truly of the libertarian camp, then you should support other people’s right to make up their own minds, without trying to ‘spin’ the argument. If you want to buy LFTB and feed it to your kids – Go for it. I just want to be able to decide for myself and have the information clearly available to do so. ANY argument that does not affirm that right cannot be a Libertarian one. I don’t need you or any other tools of the LFTB industry trying to keep me in the dark and justifying it with some grade-school level sophistry.

Marc Scribner April 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

Most consumers are rationally ignorant about food production because they assume that it is safe and they are getting what they pay for. Nothing wrong with that. But highlighting one common meat production process for scorn is nothing more than a scaremongering effort led by people who are ideologically opposed to modern industrial food production. Opposing mandatory labeling and explaining why it doesn’t need special labeling in the first place seems to me to be a worthy project. People are free to make up their own minds and make their own decisions, but shouldn’t be misled. And everyone knows that real burger snobs grind their own hamburger.

Larry April 12, 2012 at 11:01 am

Mr. Scribner:
Unfortunately, your argument suffers from a faulty premise: i.e. That food production , and particularly “industrial food production”, is safe. Your job in defending this “one common meat production process” is made much more difficult because of the numerous other examples of food contamination and adulteration that periodically erupt out of nowhere onto the front pages of our daily news. Salmonella in our chicken, melamine in our cat food, prions in food animal feedstocks, Antibiotic resistant human and animal pathogens as a result of dosing food animals with ‘growth aids’, etc, etc. All of these dirty little secrets were the result of the relentless drive to make a few cents more profit per pound. Is that OK with me? Sure, as long as I know EXACTLY what I’m dealing with. The public has every right to poison themselves, but that should be an informed choice. So far, I don’t feel that I have to grind my own hamburger – my local butcher does that competently, I believe, for me. Am I a burger snob? Nope, I trust those who have earned that trust and I no longer trust that pack of industry boot-lickers from the FDA or any other three letter acronymic to do it for me. Caveat Vendor

Marc Scribner April 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

Foodborne illnesses are less likely today than ever before. Even recently, the decline is quite clear. See this chart on E. coli from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/ncezid/dfwed/images/surveillance-chart.gif

LFTB is perfectly safe. There’s no evidence to the contrary.

Larry April 12, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Mr. Scribner:
You must think all of us Libertarians are red-necks and stupid. I just looked up your CDC data and guess what? It only references ONE strain of E. coli – 0157:H7 to be exact. That says next to nothing about food borne illnesses. Used to be, people kept from poisoning their customers by keeping food clean. Now we need to sterilize such ‘trimmings” with NH3 before selling them, in case our QC program is less than fully functional. This is the same technique street vendors in third world countries use to keep from killing their customers: it doesn’t mater how rotten or dirty something is as long as you drop it in the fryer to kill the vermin right before you serve it. I’d like to think we could do better here and publishing accurate and complete data on your product would go a long way to restoring the trust of the American consumer.

Marc Scribner April 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

No, but I suspect you’re largely ignorant about this topic. E. coli – 0157:H7 is short for Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7, the strain of E. coli within the Shigatoxigenic group (STEC) most responsible for serious foodborne illnesses. STEC non-0157 serotypes (such as O104:H4) are also dangerous, but most strains of E. coli don’t produce verotoxin and are harmless. In fact, harmless E. coli is probably in your large intestine right now! Anyhow, the evidence is quite clear that foodborne illness outbreaks continue to decline in the U.S. This information should be most relevant to consumers who are (and should be) concerned about food safety. Again, the point of Greg’s piece was to dispel the myth that LFTB is somehow unsafe. I’ve yet to see any evidence in support of that claim. If you have any, please don’t hold back.

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