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Why 70% of U.S. ground beef includes 'pink slime'

File photo: Ground beef
An ABC News report interviewed a former United States Department of Agriculture scientist who knows almost three-quarters of American ground beef contain "pink slime," beef trimmings that once were only used in dog food.
Americans may soon be skeptical about the hamburgers they make after reading about whistleblowers who were compelled to tell the media about the so-called pink slime found in U.S. ground beef.
On Wednesday night, ABC News reported that 70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something former USDA scientist Gerald Zinstein calls “pink slime.”
As the report states, this mixture is made by collecting waste trimmings, heating them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and "spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef."
“It’s economic fraud,” Zirnstein said to ABC News. “It’s not fresh ground beef. … It’s a cheap substitute being added in.”
The substitute made someone a lot of money, namely Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the makers of pink slime.
Retired microbiologist Carl Custer told The Daily: “We originally called it soylent pink. We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”
Custer and Zirnstein warned their superiors about the concoction years ago but their bosses overruled them, ABC writes. “The word in the office was that undersecretary JoAnn Smith pushed it through, and that was that,” Custer said. It should be noted Smith stepped down from the USDA in 1993, and then BPI’s principal major supplier appointed her to its board of directors, where she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years, ABC News writes.
Last year, the USDA said that 6.5 percent of the beef it purchased for the national school lunch program came from BPI, the Daily adds.
The pink slime controversy got the attention of fast-food outlets last month: McDonald's announced it would no longer be using ammonia-treated beef in its hamburgers.
The New York Times wrote BPI defended its use of the slime, saying it had reportedly perfected the technique to turn "fatty slaughterhouse trimmings into usable lean beef."


#21Mar 9, 2012 skeptikool
If truth be told, it was probably a militant vegan who knew what button to push and came came up with the pink slime moniker. Take the best marbled beef, grind it and toss it into a blender and that, too, would have a likeness to pink slime.
#22Mar 9, 2012 Katerina Nikolas
Phred C - not a century ago, that's still how meat is displayed here with the carcass hung up, minus the flies. At the butcher's counter in the supermarkets they display whole rabbits with the heads still on. Problem with beef is the price - steak is beyond a luxury item now - works out at $34 a kilo. Beef for ground beef works out about half the price of good steak and they grind it there so you see what you're getting. Processed foods haven't really caught on much so food is much fresher and doesn't contain pink slime.
#23Mar 9, 2012 sumdume
Here is a commentary from an on-line beef magazine. Please note, the article provides insight from the producer's side of the fence. Therefore, it will be considered biased by some. Regardless, it contains information that people should be able to consider.
“Pink slime” shouldn’t be in school lunches. McDonald’s and Taco Bell have already determined that “pink slime” is a public relations disaster and they refuse to use it, but the fast-food giants don’t get it, either.
The bottom line is that if we adopted irradiation we could do away with ammonium hydroxide.
#24Mar 9, 2012 Ken Wightman
I love all the safety stuff BPI brags about. Like: The company touts food safety as a priority. It uses two metal detectors to scan beef before and after processing at its Sioux City, Iowa, manufacturing facility.
The above is done at lots of meat packing plants but I recall when a big, whole piece of solid meat was taken from the cooler and ground right in front of you. It was wrapped and tied and went straight from the butcher's hands to yours. A metal detector was not necessary. Absolutely no need.
#25Mar 9, 2012 sumdume
The stores are demanding boxes of certain cuts (steaks, roasts, etc.). They cannot afford the waste involved in getting sides of beef and cutting it themselves.
#26Mar 9, 2012 Ken Wightman
My family was what would be called working poor in today's terminology. Meat from a proper butcher shop in the '50s was affordable. Today it isn't. Something is wrong somewhere.
#27Mar 9, 2012 sumdume
Many things that are expensive now are more affordable. The amount of money we get paid today is much greater than it was in 1950.
Salary 1950 = $3,800
Salary 2011 = $64,000
House 1950 = $14,500
House 2011 = $120,000 to $220,000
Tbone Steak 1950 = $0.59
Tbone Steak 2012 = $8.90
Big factors in the cost of meat are labor, trucking, electricity, feed, Taxes, regulations and the animals that are harvested. All of these inputs has risen rapidly. The drought last year in Texas, the long drought in the mountain states that ended a couple of years ago and conversion of land to bio-fuels and homes has reduced the number of cattle in the U.S. This increased the value of the animals. The Obama policy of printing money and borrowing our way out of debt has decreased the real value of a dollar. Add to that increased demand for beef in the Far East and other countries and you have a recipe for inflation.
#28Mar 9, 2012 Ken Wightman
House 1950, $14.500! Not where I came from. Our home, purchased in about 1960, was an older five bedroom brick home and cost about $6900. My sister's new place in the suburbs was about $12,000. Because my dad made so little money, we lived in government subsidized housing. My mother told me once that the rent was about $45 a month. And my wife and I buy our T-bone steaks whenever they go on sale. We budget about $4.95 a pound today. (My nephew once pointed out to me that my Friday nights at a 25-cent sock hop and a hamburg, chips and coke at the corner restaurant afterwards, maybe with a date, was a harder to pay for night than his high school Friday nights in the '80s. I made 35-cents and hour as a delivery boy at the neighbourhood drugstore. He made more like $8 an hour at his job. I worked about seven hours to pay for my Friday night with a date. He didn't dump a comparable $56 on his Friday night entertainment. He didn't have to work seven hours to pay for his fun.)
#29Mar 10, 2012 sumdume
I used information from a variety of sources for my last post. I have no idea where they got the information or how good it is. I believe there would be a wide variation in prices of most products due to location. Here is the info from one source.
House: $14,500
Average income: $3,216
Ford car: $1339-$2262
Philco model 1403 TV: $199
Admiral "home entertainment" TV system: $549.50
12" records: $4.85
10" records: $2.85
Milk: $.82
Gas: $.20
Bread $.14
Postage stamp: $.03
Pumpkins : $.02 cents a lb
Campbell’s Pork & Beans - (2) 1 lb. cans: $.25
Sirloin steak: $.77 lb
Kraft Mayonnaise - quart jar: $.62.
#30Mar 10, 2012 sumdume
Ken, you brought up a good point in your last post. Lets look at the number of hours it would take someone to purchase products then and now.
For this exercise I will assume my numbers were correct. I do not believe they are but let us assume they are in the ball park.
Let us assume the worker is paid for 2,080 hours per year (8hr/day X 5days/week X 52 weeks).
1950 hourly wage - $3,800/2080 = $1.83
2011-12 hourly wage - $64,000/2080 = $30.75
Item Price Hours of work needed to purchase Item
House 1950 - $14,500 7,936.84 hours
House 2011 - $120,000 3,901.88 Hours
House 2011 - $220,000 7,153.44 Hours
T-bone steak 1950 - $0.59 0.32 Hours
T-bone steak 2012 - $8.90 0.29 Hours
Based on the admittedly unreliable data it appears the worker needs to work fewer hours to buy a house and a steak today than in 1950.


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