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Is Pink Slime Still In Your Ground Beef?

It has been five years since the “pink slime” controversy first made headlines. A quick refresher for anyone that has successfully erased the disturbing image of the shockingly bright pink beef slurry from their minds eye: Pink slime, technically referred to as “lean beef trimmings,” is a beef rendering and ammonium hydroxide-based product that was being sold in massive quantities for school lunches and fast food burgers.

The Pepto-Bismol colored paste was manufactured by the aptly named Beef Products Inc. (BPI). USDA regulations allow any given beef product to contain up to 15 percent pink slime. BPI sued ABC for running an exposé that cast this beef product in a negative light. ABC also discovered that pink slime was present in 70 percent of grocery store ground beef samples, and was also being widely used by fast food chains and in school cafeterias.

There is such a thing as bad publicity, at least when the product you manufacturer is a lurid pink ersatz ground beef. Generations of “mystery meat jokes” were vindicated. McDonalds and other chains vowed to stop using this repellent foodstuff. Pink slime sales cratered. Consumers were saying no with their pocketbooks and the story appeared to be over.

Huffington Post reports that pink slime is back in the news. Beef Products Inc. sued ABC for libel soon after the story broke, and the case has been winding its way through the courts ever since. Although ABC’s lawyers say they never said the product was unsafe, a South Dakota judge recently refused to throw out the case, and it is worth noting that South Dakota is one of only 13 states with food disparagement laws.

If they were to lose, ABC could be on the hook for more than $6 billion and some observers feel Beef Products Inc. has an advantage with the trial being held in South Dakota. In 2012, BPI was forced to shutter 3 of 4 pink slime manufacturing facilities. The lawsuit contends the ABC report was responsible for a staggering $1.9 billion in lost sales. Hundreds of workers were laid off.

One month before the ABC report, Eldon Roth, inventor of “pink slime,” was inducted into the Nebraska Business Hall of Fame. A few months later, BPI appeared to be in ruins. Unbelievably, the story did not end there. Apart from the potential payout from a massive lawsuit, pink slime sales are also on the upswing again.

Increased beef prices are partially to blame for the resurgence of pink slime, but also consider the repercussions of buying your meat at your local supermarket. Doing so directly supports a CAFO-based food system that promotes the production of cheap and potentially dangerous filler products like "pink slime." As long as there are people willing to buy cheap, "imitation" meat, the industry will continue to produce it.

The easiest way to avoid pink slime is to purchase your meat directly from a trusted farmer. This is not a viable option for many. Worse still, the presence of pink slime does not need to be included on USDA labels. The good news is that a USDA Organic label is a good indicator that your beef does not contain pink slime.
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