Republican Governors Rush To Defend ‘Pink Slime’

“Let’s call this product what it is. And let ‘pink slime’ become a term of the past.”

-Governor Rick Perry.

Three Republican governors have come to the defense of “pink slime,” in response to the public outcry against it. Governors Rick Perry (Texas), Sam Brownback (Kansas) and Terry Branstad (Iowa) all hail from states that have been hit hard by the criticism of the meat filler. Last week, they joined together to tour one of Beef Product Inc.’s plants and to speak out against what they consider to be an unfair attack.

“Why are we here today defending a company that has a rather sterling record dealing with making a food product that is very much-needed in this country in a very safe manner? Why are we here today?” Perry said.

Those fueling the campaign against the meat product have qualms about its safety, due in large part to the ammonium hydroxide used to kill bacteria and alter the beef’s acidity.

Critics of the backlash say that the product is perfectly safe to eat, and the attacks have needlessly cost people their jobs. The latter claim certainly seems to have some ground to it. Recently, numerous grocery stores and fast food restaurants have banned the product, including Kroger, Safeway, McDonald’s and Taco Bell. It has even been cast out of many school lunch menus. Naturally, the lack of demand has led to a steep loss in profits, and companies like the aforementioned Beef Products Inc. have temporarily closed down plants. Another big player, AFA Foods, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection on Monday and plans to sell some, or possibly all, of its assets. Presumably, its roughly 850 full-time employees will be out of work.

“I do not believe workers in plants in Iowa, Kansas and Texas should wonder why they don’t have a job because of misleading headlines,” Branstad said of the BPI closings.

Governors Perry, Branstad and Brownback discussed the production of the meat with BPI’s director of quality assurance, Craig Letch and then went for a brief tour through the factory. At a news conference after, they dined on burgers made at the facility, with Branstad declaring, “It’s lean. It’s good. It’s nutritious.”

So what is “pink slime?” The term, coined by former USDA microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, in 2002 after he toured a BPI plant, refers to what is actually titled “finely textured lean beef” or “boneless lean beef trimmings.” Essentially, it is a combination of all the leftover bits and pieces of meat that are too small or too unappetizing to sell on their own, that is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to make it safer for human consumption.

To be fair, it should be noted that the gas used is a common additive in many processed foods, including cheeses, baked goods and even candy and chocolate. And it’s not the same ammonia that is often used in cleaners. It has been used for decades and has been declared “safe” by the USDA for more than 20 years. And doing away with the product will drive up the costs of beef. But rather than be reassured by the claim that it’s used frequently, they are simply turning their attention to the dangers posed by all processed foods.

Those concerned about the product are not only preoccupied with the gas used to treat it, they are critical of the meat that goes into it. Commonly, the areas most likely to be contaminated with harmful bacteria are used (which is why the chemical treatment is so necessary), as well as connective tissue. Because of these concerns, some are demanding the filler be banned from American food products, as it is in Canada and the UK.

The uproar over “pink slime” has also led many to look into things commonly added to all commercial meat products, and the list isn’t pretty. They are calling out for proper labeling of the foods that show up in restaurants and in our grocery stores. As it stands, ground beef can contain up to 15% “pink slime” and still claim to be 100% ground beef. And in March of this year, it was estimated that roughly 70% of ground beef sold in the US has the filler in it.

So the question remains, is “pink slime” really safe? And if it isn’t, or it just plain doesn’t appeal to anyone, don’t the American people have a right to know what’s in their food?

And if none of us want to eat it, and these companies go under, shouldn’t the Republicans be the first to point out that this is simply capitalism at work?