Lean Finely Textured Beef

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Let’s Talk About: Lean Finely Textured Beef

Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) or “pink slime” as deemed by Gerald Zirnstein, microbiologist and former meat inspector for USDA, is a food ingredient that can leave American consumers feeling confused or concerned. Many consumers are unaware of the processes involved in the production of various meat products. Much of the information that reaches consumers on this valuable protein source is negatively portrayed and obtained by the media.

Controversy Surrounding LFTB

  • In 2002, USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein visited a BPI plant. He created the term “pink slime” in an email to colleagues. He believes hamburger products containing LFTB should say so on the label.[i]
  • In 2011, Jamie Oliver, chef and host of reality show Food Revolution, attacked LFTB. He mixes beef products with liquid ammonia in front of a live audience.[ii]
  • In 2012, Bettina Siegel, a lawyer-turned-freelance-writer and mother of two, created a petition asking the USDA to stop purchasing LFTB for the school lunch program.[iii]
  • In 2012, ABC News released a story about LFTB, coining it “pink slime” and stating it wasn’t real beef. The story spread rapidly due to negative portrayals from bloggers and reality shows. There was a tremendous backlash against the product and the major manufacturer, Beef Products Inc. or BPI.
    • The negative media attention resulted in BPI’s shut down of three of four plants and 650 workers lost their jobs.[iv]
    • Many supermarkets and fast-food restaurants dropped ground beef containing LFTB from their products carried. Additionally, the USDA announced it would allow school districts to choose whether or not to include LFTB in their school lunches.
    • BPI filed a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News over the negative portrayal of LFTB.[v]
    • Some companies have called for a label on all beef products containing LFTB. The USDA states LFTB is 100% beef, and all labeling will be voluntary. The label will not be negative; instead it will be similar to labels claiming the inclusion of Black Angus beef.[vi]

Illinois Farm Bureau Policy

The Illinois Farm Bureau (“IFB”) supports “The use of modern technology in the processing and handling of food to assure food safety and promote consumer confidence in the food supply.”[vii]

The Production of Lean Finely Textured Beef 

Lean Finely Textured Beef, also known as LFTB, is made from 100% beef.[viii] LFTB production utilizes beef that otherwise would be wasted.

During the processing of the beef carcass, the beef is separated into the marketable cuts, like steaks and roasts. The trimmings, or portions of fat left on the bones after processing, contain small remnants of meat as well. The trimmings are removed from the bone, heated to the body temperature of a bovine and centrifuged. The process separates the fat from the meat. The lean meat is removed from the fat. Depending on the type of finely textured beef product being produced, a small amount of food grade ammonium hydroxide gas or citric acid is added. The ammonia gas or citric acid lowers the pH of the meat, making an inhospitable environment for bacteria growth. The meat is then quick-frozen and pressed.[ix] LFTB is approximately 95% lean.[x]  

Safety Concerns

Many consumers have misguided concerns about the production practices and the safety of LFTB. Attention to scientific evidence, government regulations and history calms consumer concern.

  • All beef products are strictly regulated and inspected by the USDA.[xi]
  • In 1970, ammonium hydroxide was first evaluated by the FDA for its safety in food production. Its status with the FDA is generally recognized as safe and is used extensively in the production of many types of food.[xii]
  • Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the creator of LFTB, led the food industry in the “test and hold policy”. The policy mandated the entire product batch was withheld from the customers until a negative pathogen test result was received.[xiii]
  • BPI’s LFTB has never been linked to a food-borne illness outbreak.[xiv]
  • Nancy Donley lost her son to hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by eating E. coli contaminated ground beef. Nancy toured BPI, spoke to the creator of LFTB, and praised the company dedication to food safety.[xv]

Cost Efficiency

  • Lean Finely Textured Beef allows more consumable beef to be produced from each bovine, reducing the environmental impact of each pound of beef produced. 10% of every fed steer or heifer carcass is lean beef trimmings.[xvi]
  • Removing LFTB from fresh ground beef products would require 1.5 million additional head harvested annually to make up the difference.[xvii]
  • Without the addition of LFTB, consumers can expect beef prices to be 5-10% higher.[xviii]
  • In June 2014, the price of ground beef was up 14% from the previous year, due to the decreased utilization of LFTB and weather conditions. [xix]

 



[i] Andrew, James. “BPI and ‘Pink Slime’: A Timeline.” Food Safety News. 9 April 2012. Web. 7 July 2015.

[ii] Andrew, James. “BPI and ‘Pink Slime’: A Timeline.” Food Safety News. 9 April 2012. Web. 7 July 2015.

[iii] Andrew, James. “BPI and ‘Pink Slime’: A Timeline.” Food Safety News. 9 April 2012. Web. 7 July 2015.

[iv] USDA/ERS. “Consumer concern about LFTB and its effects on ground beef prices.” 12 April 2012. Drovers CattleNetwork. Web. 1 July 2015

[v] Sanburn, Josh. “The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back.” Time. 26 August 2014. Web. 1 July 2015.

[vi] Greene, Joel, L. “Lean Finely Textured Beef: The “Pink Slime” Controversy.” Congressional Research Service. Web. 24 June 2015.

[vii] Illinois Farm Bureau. (2015). Food Safety. Policy Resolutions (pp.78). Bloomington, IL. 

[viii] “GMIS Fact Sheet: Lean Finely Textured Beef.” Georgia Department of Agriculture. 2012. Web. 22 June 2015.

[ix] “Questions and Answers About Lean Finely Textured Beef.” American Meat Institute. Web. 18 June 2015.

[x] Carr, Chad, Johnson, Dwain, Brendemuhl, Joel & Eubanks, Larry. “Facts and Frequently Asked Questions About Lean, Finely-Textured Beef.” University of Florida IFAS Extension. July 2012. Web. 23 June 2015.

[xi] “Questions and Answers About Lean Finely Textured Beef.” American Meat Institute. Web. 18 June 2015.

[xii] Greene, Joel, L. “Lean Finely Textured Beef: The “Pink Slime” Controversy.” Congressional Research Service. Web. 24 June 2015.

[xiii]Greene, Joel, L. “Lean Finely Textured Beef: The “Pink Slime” Controversy.” Congressional Research Service. Web. 24 June 2015.

[xiv] Gruley, Bryan & Campbell, Elizabeth. “‘Pink Slime’ Furor Means Disaster for U.S. Meat.” 12 April 2012. BloombergBusiness. Web. 1 July 2015

[xv] Donley, Nancy. “In Defense of Food Safety Leadership.” Food Safety News. 17 March 2012. Web. 7 July 2015.

[xvi] USDA/ERS. “Consumer concern about LFTB and its effects on ground beef prices.” 12 April 2012. Drovers CattleNetwork. Web. 1 July 2015.

[xvii] “Questions and Answers About Lean Finely Textured Beef.” American Meat Institute. Web. 18 June 2015.

[xviii] Tuttle, Brad. “Backlash to the ‘Pink Slime’ Backlash.” Time. 29 April 2012. Web. 1 July 2015.

[xix] Sanburn, Josh. “The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back.” Time. 26 August 2014. Web. 1 July 2015.

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