by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Beef

Jun 13 2017

Pink Slime again: The lawsuit

Remember “pink slime” the pejorative name for what BPI (Beef Products International) much prefers to call “lean, finely textured beef (LFTB),” so much so that it is suing ABC News under South Dakota’s “disparagement of agriculture” or food libel law.

This is not a joke.  BPI is suing for $1.9 billion in damages and this could go to $5.7 billion under South Dakota’s Food Product Disparagement Act.

The New York Times recounts the history of pink slime and reminds us that Michael Moss won a won a Pulitzer Prize for an article in which he mentions it in 2010.

I am riveted by Dan Flynn’s account of the trial in Food Safety News.

May 30:  The trial opens, with ironic timing.

But the BPI vs. ABC lawsuit is going forward just as demand is also coming back for LFTB, two years after depiction of the product in the media as “pink slime” put consumer pressure on retailers and restaurants to pull the product.Now, however, many of those same restaurants and retailers fear losing their customers for beef patties because they cost too much. LFTB, produced by both BPI and Cargill, is in demand to keep hamburger prices down.

June 5:  The jury trial begins.

At issue is whether the the network and its reporter violated South Dakota’s Agriculture Food Product Disparagement Act. If it did, any award won at trial  could be tripled under the Act — to as much as $5.7 billion in this case. The jury will have to decide if the network and its reporter defamed the product known within the meat industry as lean finely textured beef by repeatedly referring to it as “pink slime” in numerous reports beginning in March 7, 2012.

June 8:  BPI’s chief witness testifies.  She is professor Mindy Brashears, director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech.

She told the jury that BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is meat, is beef, is nutritious and is entirely safe to eat…In the past four years, Brashears said, she not only examined everything she could find about BPI, but also conducted her own studies. Her time on the project totaled 1,250 hours and BPI paid her a private consulting rate of $250 an hour for a total of about $335,000.

June 9:  ABC’s lawyer,  Dane Butswinkas, starts his cross-examination

Butswinkas did get the professor to admit BPI was suspended from the National School Lunch Program on multiple occasions in 2007 and 2008. Brashears said those suspensions were essentially voluntary actions by BPI taken after pathogens were discovered in its product by the lab working for the lunch program. She said the action was consistent with BPI’s food safety plan.

I have a long-standing interest in this case, dating back to 2009 when I first started writing about it.

I will continue to follow this trial with great interest.  Most lawyers I know think that food libel laws will not hold up in court.  Let’s see what this jury says.

Jun 8 2017

What’s up with trade in agriculture?

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says this about our new “trade breakthrough” with China:

This is tremendous news for the American beef industry, the agriculture community, and the U.S. economy in general.  We will once again have access to the enormous Chinese market, with a strong and growing middle class, which had been closed to our ranchers for a long, long time. .. When the Chinese people taste our high-quality U.S. beef, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll want more of it.”

Why “breakthrough”?  China refused to buy US beef after a case of mad cow disease turned up.

The  point of US trade policy is to have open markets for our products.  USDA has a quick summary of our current balance of trade.  We are doing pretty well with it.

And here’s why:

Hence: Selling beef to China should up those numbers.

Aug 31 2015

Bacteria in ground beef dangerous or natural? Depends on point of view, apparently.

Consumer Reports has just done a major report on the safety of ground beef.

In its announcement of the report, Consumer Reports says:

All 458 pounds of beef we examined contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination (enterococcus and/or nontoxin-producing E. coli)…Almost 20 percent contained C. perfringens, a bacteria that causes almost 1 million cases of food poisoning annually. Ten percent of the samples had a strain of S. aureus bacteria that can produce a toxin that can make you sick…One of the most significant findings of our research is that beef from conventionally raised cows was more likely to have bacteria overall, as well as bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, than beef from sustainably raised cows.

For public health people, results like this should send alarm signals.  The presence of E. coli, even the non-toxic type, indicates fecal contamination.  This is more than a yuck problem.  If E. coli is there, dangerous fecal pathogens could be there too.

But the North American Meat Institute headlined its response: “Consumer Reports Ground Beef Study Confirms Strong Safety of Ground Beef.”

The “bacteria identified in the Consumer Reports testing are types that rarely cause foodborne illness. Bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus, and generic E. coli are commonly found in the environment and are not considered pathogenic bacteria…Bacteria occur naturally on all raw food products from beef to blueberries so finding certain types on some foods in a grocery store is not surprising and should not be concerning,”

For the meat industry, fecal contamination is normal, natural, and you don’t need to worry about it—just be sure to cook your meat to a temperature high enough to kill all pathogens.

Good luck with that.

My advice: if you like ground beef rare, go to a butcher shop and ask to have one piece of meat ground for you in a freshly cleaned grinder.

Dec 18 2013

American Meat Institute defines Fine, Lightly Textured Beef (a.k.a. “pink slime”)

Yesterday, the American Meat Institute sent out an advisory to the news media with a helpful glossary of terms to “use and avoid in coverage of lean finely textured beef” (LFTB).

Lean finely textured beef (LFTB)?  Recall the pejorative: “pink slime?”

Academic that I am, I love precise meanings.

The AMI says these terms are proper to use:

Lean Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Beef Products,  Inc.  More detail is available at www.beefisbeef.com.

Finely Textured Beef: This product is produced by Cargill.  More detail is available at www.groundbeefanswers.com.

Beef: Both LFTB and FTB are defined as beef by USDA.

Product: Just as a steak or roast are considered a product of a company, LFTB and FTB are products of BPI and Cargill respectively.

But AMI says, you should never use this term:

Pink Slime: While this term has been commonly used to describe LFTB, there is nothing slimy about it.  The negative connotation of the phrase “pink slime” shows bias and is inappropriate to describe a wholesome, safe, nutritious and USDA inspected beef product.

You also are not supposed to use the terms Filler, Binder, Extender, or Additive.

Aren’t you happy to have this clarified?

Jul 26 2012

USDA supports Meatless Monday? Not a chance.

I was asked by a reporter yesterday for comment on the press release issued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) in response to USDA’s announced support of the Meatless Monday campaign.  

What? 

My immediate reaction: It’s pretty unbelievable that USDA would support Meatless Monday. Where’s the USDA statement? [see addition below]

The NCBA press release said:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) recent announcement that the agency embraces the “Meatless Monday” concept calls into question USDA’s commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers. USDA stated “one simple way to reduce our environmental impact while dining at our cafeteria is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative.”

NCBA said Meatless Monday “is an animal rights extremist campaign to ultimately end meat consumption” and “NCBA will not remain silent as USDA turns its back on cattlemen and consumers.”

Without having seen what USDA said, I told the reporter:

If USDA is really supporting Meatless Monday, that’s big news. Historically, the USDA has worked hand in glove with the meat industry and has firmly resisted suggestions that it would be healthier for people and the planet to eat less meat.

The meat industry complained that the 2010 dietary guidelines pushed seafood and that meat got lost in protein in MyPlate, so they are supersensitive to this issue. Anyone who has ever been to a feedlot or industrial pig farm knows that the environmental issues are huge. You can smell them from miles away.

And what did the USDA actually say?  Oops.  Mistake.

According to the Boston Globe:

The Agriculture Department says a statement on its website encouraging its employees not to eat meat on Mondays was made without proper clearance.

The posting earlier this week was part of an internal newsletter that discusses how staff can reduce their environmental impact while dining at the agency’s cafeteria.

….USDA spokeswoman Cortney Rowe says the department does not endorse the “Meatless Monday” initiative, which is part of a global public health campaign.

Apparently, the USDA pulled the statement within minutes after the NCBA statement went out. 

How did USDA announce this to the public?  On Twitter!

USDA MT @usdapress: USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement on USDA site posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed // @FarmBureau

 Food politics in action!

Addition, June 27: Here’s the original USDA Newsletter that caused all this fuss.  Scroll to page 3.

Apr 25 2012

What’s up with mad cow?

You have to feel sorry for the beef industry.  First pink slime, now a mad cow.

Here’s what we know about the latest mad cow scare (the USDA has a page devoted to mad cow disease, so does the FDA, and I wrote about it in my book, Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety).

  • Mad cow is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a fatal disease caused by abnormal proteins (prions) in the brain and nervous system.
  • The disease affected 37,311 cows in Great Britain in 1992.
  • In 2011, there were only 29 cases worldwide.
  • No human case has been seen in the U.S., except for one in a woman who moved here from England at the time.
  • The affected cow found in California is only the fourth in the U.S. since the testing program started a decade ago.
  • The USDA tests about 40,000 cows a year out of the 34 million slaughtered. 
  • This one was evidently high risk.  It died and was sent to a rendering plant.  It either looked suspicious enough to be singled out for testing or was picked up on routine testing.
  • When the test came back positive, authorities impounded the carcass.
  • It never entered the food supply for either people or pets.
  • How it got the disease in the first place is either unknown or undisclosed.  The most likely possibility is that the disease developed spontaneously (as it does occasionally in older cows).

According to the Wall Street Journal,

The disease was detected on a cow carcass taken in for rendering last Wednesday at an animal-rendering plant in Hanford, Calif., said Dennis Luckey, vice president of Baker Commodities Inc., a Los Angeles-based processor of animal byproducts that operates the facility.

Mr. Luckey said the cow had died at a dairy he couldn’t immediately identify, saying that information was in the hands of the USDA.

The plant renders cows that have died to make commodities such as “high-protein ingredients for poultry feed and pet food,” according to Baker’s website.

During the British mad cow scare of the 1990s, people eating beef and cats eating cow byproducts got the disease, but dogs did not. 

The USDA is issuing assurances that the system is working since mad cow prions from this cow did not get into the food supply for people or pets.

My assessment: The risk of you getting this disease from eating beef is extremely small.

You don’t find this reassuring? Eat your veggies!

Feb 19 2011

American Heart Association says “I ♥ beef”!

The Beef Board, the USDA-managed checkoff program for marketing beef, proudly announces its new partnership with the American Heart Association (AHA).  The Beef Board gets its money from a compulsory tax on cattle ranchers computed every time they sell an animal.  Evidently, the money is well spent.

The AHA will put its HeartCheck symbol on three cuts of lean beef:

  • Boneless Top Sirloin Petite Roast (select grade)
  • Top Sirloin Filet (select grade)
  • Top Sirloin Kabob (select grade)

A member of the Beef Board says: “”We are extremely thrilled to receive the American Heart Association certification because, for consumers, it represents the independent voice of a trusted health organization.”

I’ll bet they are.

Today’s quiz: How much money is the Beef Board paying the AHA to use its CheckMark logo?

I hope it’s a lot more than what the AHA gets (or used to get) for putting its check mark on sugary cereals.  This was $4,500 per product when I updated Food Politics in 2007.  After all, sugary cereals don’t have any saturated fat or cholesterol so they must be heart healthy, no?

Ah partnerships and alliances.  You have to love them.  How will the Beef Board use the HeartCheck?  With an I ♥ Beef  campaign, of course.  Fat content unspecified.

Feb 23 2009

The latest on the meat front

In case you were wondering how come Bill Niman is no longer associated with Niman Ranch meats, yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle explains the whole sad story, one framed by the writer as a matter of idealism vs. economic realities.

Perhaps coincidentally, Nicolette Hahn Niman’s new book,  Righteous Porkchop, is just out.  This is a thoughtful and affecting memoir of her version of the events–her background as an activist lawyer, her romance with Bill, and their work together.  I blurbed it, pointing out that it should establish her as an independent national voice for efforts to reform industrial animal production.

I also blurbed Betty Fussell’s entertainingly researched cultural history of American beef, Raising Steaks. If you want to know what the fuss about humanely and sustainably raised meat is about, these books are a great starting point.

 
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