Called "lean finely textured beef" by the meat industry and "pink slime" by critics, the beef filler has ignited a war of words over what's in your cheeseburger. (pennstatelive/Flickr)
Thanks to consumer uproar, the company that makes much of the meat industry’s lean finely textured beef – called “pink slime” by critics – plans to close three of its processing plants.
The South Dakota-based company, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), said it will close plants in Waterloo, Iowa, Garden City, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas. The closures will cut about 650 jobs.
The beef filler (known in the industry as LFTB) has been the source of controversy for months now, with both pro-filler and anti-filler groups competing in a war of words.
With several major ground beef buyers such as McDonald’s, Wal-Mart and Kroger ending their use of the beef filler, BPI has taken a huge hit. The company suspended operations at the three plants last month and decided to close them this week. They’ll continue to operate a plant in South Sioux City, Neb., though, according to spokesman Rich Jocum.
“In the interim, we continue to stand by our lean beef as 100 percent wholesome, safe and nutritious, and we will continue to defend Beef Products, Inc. against the mischaracterizations and irresponsible misrepresentations that led us to take these actions,” Jocum said in an email.
U.S. Department of Agriculture testing found that beef filler is safe for human consumption. But many consumers feel the industry isn’t forthright with what’s in their products.
Carrie Ray, a member of our Harvest Network, said she thinks ground beef containing the LFTB should be labeled.
“I think it's more about people finding out that what they're eating is not exactly what they thought,” Ray wrote. “Maybe it will turn out that there's nothing wrong with it in the end, but people don't like feeling duped.”
Others say the media has perpetuated the issue. That’s what Becca Harrison (@_beccaharrison) tweeted, “650 jobs lost because of media capitalizing on public gullibility and fear. What does this really fix?”
“I believe it is important to distinguish people’s concerns about how their food is made from their concerns about food safety,” Hagen said. “The process used to produce LFTB is safe and has been used for a very long time. And adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume.”
The beef filler controversy highlights the interconnected world of farms, factories and grocery aisles. In the end, consumers vote with their wallets and the market is forced to listen.