Pink slime bankruptcy: After the backlash, what's next for beef?
"Pink slime" -- that "lean, finely textured beef" that has stirred up so much controversy over the past few weeks -- is history. As in, you probably won’t be eating the stuff much longer in your ground beef.
And now we're seeing the ramifications for the beef industry. Last week, Beef Products Inc. temporarily (?) shut down three plants in the Midwest. And this week, AFA Foods, a ground beef processor based in King of Prussia, Penn., announced it is seeking bankruptcy protection. While Bloomberg News reported that Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc., the two largest U.S. beef processors, don’t plan to close plants because of lower demand for finely textured beef -- Cargill has scaled back production.
Amid the warnings of higher beef prices and plant closings, The Christian Science Monitor asks: Without the lean beef trimmings, what’s next in the world of ground beef?
“We’ve been moving quickly, but this issue caught us by surprise,” Janet Riley, a spokesperson for the American Meat Institute, based in Alexandria, Va., told the publication. “I’ve been here 21 years, and this one was pretty amazing. We feel like the technology is so valuable that we are going to fight for it, but I don’t know what the outcome will be."
Many experts believe the beef industry has already lost that fight. And Chris Calkins, a professor of animal science at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, told The Christian Science Monitor that the loss of the product will have an impact:
Calkins thinks that the loss of a domestic meat supply will increase US imports of beef, something that the country already relies on heavily. “There is strong consumer demand for lean ground beef so you have to find a different source of very lean meat for grinding. That means an increase in imports. We bring more cheap beef in than we supply, and export high quality steaks and cuts, because there’s a global demand. Lean beef – we bring it in for a less costly source of raw material.”
But what happens to the pink slime? “The products that used to go into lean finely textured beef, those products can go into manufactured items: in hot dogs, frankfurters, etc,” Calkins says “ I don’t think it will get thrown away, but it will oversupply that part of the channel.”
That could mean lower prices on those products, if briefly. “It will take a while for the industry to sort that out,” he adds.