April 10, 2018 -- Vegparadise News Bureau
Is Pink Slime Hidden in a Hamburger Today?
Editors at Vegetarians in Paradise are always scanning the internet for interesting stories we feel are worthy of public attention. One we linked to was a story about "Pink Slime," considered a derogatory name for "lean finely textured beef (LFTB).
Because a link to the story appeared on our front page in April 2012, many or our readers thought it was one of our dumb April Fool's jokes. Unfortunately, "Pink Slime" was real and it hasn't gone away.
Our front-page announcement was as follows:
"Pink Slime" Meat Will Still Be Served in Schools
"The USDA announced this week that schools have the right to choose whether they wish to purchase ground beef that contains so-called "pink slime."
"Pink slime is a low-cost product that is rendered from the fatty outside trim of the cow, combined with connective tissue and cartilage, heated up to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonia to kill E. coli. It is a very scary product that no child--or adult, for that matter--should be expected to eat. Even many fast food chains have stopped using it. Microbiologists have called pink slime a "high risk" product.
"The USDA was set to purchase 7 million pounds of ground beef containing pink slime for use in public school lunches. In response, Bettina Siegel, a Houston mother of two, started an online petition through the website Change.org protesting the use of pink slime in schools. The petition garnered a quarter of a million signatures. In turn, the USDA decided to let schools make the call. In other words, they're passing the buck." Read More
The Change.org petition appeared as a result of an ABC news report in 2012. That broadcast led to a $1.9 billion lawsuit: Beef Products, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. in which BPI claimed ABC News made almost "200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign," engaged in "product and food disparagement, and tortuous interference with business relationships." BPI called the ABC News series a "concerted disinformation campaign" against LFTB."
The ABC News series of reports made listeners aware that scraps of unsalable beef trimmings were compressed together and treated with ammonium hydroxide. The news reports claimed that 70% of ground beef sold in US supermarkets contained LFTB. LFTB is not permitted in Canada and the European Union.
In the initial ABC News report, reporter Jim Avila stated that 70% of beef in supermarkets contains "pink slime, " a phrase he says originated with former USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein. Zirnstein worked for the USDA as food scientist investigating what was in ground beef and whether the ingredients met federal regulations.
The beef industry wanted the USDA to approve a new product "lean finely textured beef" (LFTB) that was previously only used for pet food and cooking oil. Zirnstein expressed his disgust in an email to a colleague in which he labeled this creation "pink slime." When the email was revealed in a Freedom of Information request, he was called a whistleblower. Zirnstein and another former USDA microbiologist were dropped from the lawsuit in 2016 and cannot be sued again.
This court case, a product defamation lawsuit, was tried in the South Dakota State Court. South Dakota is one of thirteen states in the US that has a product disparagement law. These cow trimmings were treated with ammonia to kill harmful bacteria.
The states with food disparagement laws (also known as veggie libel laws) are as follows:
The South Dakota law would award triple damages ($5.7 billion) if BPI won the lawsuit. ABC attempted to have the case tried in federal court, but a federal judge sent it back to the state court.
ABC and BPI settled the case in June 2017. Although the settlement terms were kept secret, ABC was reported paying "at least $177 million."
Maybe ABC should not have called LFTB "Pink Slime," but to treat their reporting as food disparagement is wrong. Whatever happened to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment? If you or I write a story or make a public statement about the negative aspects of a food product, we could be sued for millions, if not billions.
A similar food disparagement trial happened to Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman 1996 when they faced the Texas Cattlemen's Association in a lawsuit resulting from their comments linking Mad Cow Disease to beef consumption. In that case the Cattlemen lost, but in this lawsuit not only did ABC lose its free speech rights, but, unfortunately, the public also lost its access to negative information about foods it eats.
We feel the FDA should remove the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status of LFTB and rule it is no longer acceptable in ground beef. Until that happens, companies should be required to indicate that this additive is in their ground meat. The public has a right to know what's in the meat it's buying. BPI claims LFTB is safe, but is it nutritious or just another a filler to increase the profits of the meat producer?
Is "pink slime" in your hamburger today? You'll never know!