The decision by retailers to remove finely textured beef (FTB) - aka ‘pink slime’ - from ground beef products was “disappointing but understandable given the immense volume of misinformation and hyperbole” surrounding the product, according to Cargill.
The firm was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA about the impact decisions by retailers and foodservice giants to drop FTB had had on Cargill given that Beef Products Inc has closed three of its four FTB facilities and AFA Foods has filed for bankruptcy citing 'pink slime' media damage.
Cargill director of communications Michael Martin said: “We produce FTB at four of our beef processing facilities and the FTB operation at each has been significantly scaled back. But we have not shuttered any operations or had any workforce reductions at our beef plants as the result of FTB being in the news.”
Voluntary labeling and consumer research
Asked whether it was realistic that firms that have now made public commitments to phase FTB out would reverse these decisions once the media storm subsides, he said: “It is for the retailers to decide if they bring back ground beef with FTB. The dialogue is ongoing.”
He added: “We have developed a voluntary labeling program approved by USDA, so that may help retailers bring back product containing FTB in the meat case. We're also conducting consumer research to better understand their knowledge and feelings about FTB.”
While labeling is “not mandatory because it's all beef”, said Martin, several voluntary label options were under discussion “including one that states ‘includes finely textured beef’.
Where is sustainability in pink slime debate?
While Cargill's beef business is one of the largest in the US, and FTB ”is a relatively small part of it”, explained Martin, the product is important because it helps Cargill maximize the amount of lean beef its captures from each animal while minimizing waste.
He added: “It also helps us avoid grinding other, higher value, muscle cuts such as chuck roast to get the lean meat we need for ground beef.
“It's a more sustainable way to provide safe, quality, nutritious, abundant and affordable ground beef to Americans, who have made ground beef a dietary staple throughout the nation."
FTB is typically added to ground beef to increase the percentage of lean beef, he added.
The irony, he said, was that “without FTB, we are hand cutting muscle meat from fatty trim to capture lean beef for inclusion in ground beef. That's not as efficient as using FTB technology to do the same thing and it's more wasteful and more expensive”.
‘Recovering edible wholesome protein’
Cargill has produced a video on finely textured beef to explain that it is “simply beef that has been separated from fat in a process similar to separating milk from cream”.
In a web page dedicated to tackling myths about the product, it says: “It’s not scraps from the floor. It’s not cartilage, tendons or other parts of the animal. It’s not dog food. It’s not filler. It’s meat.”
While some producers give the product a puff of ammoniated gas to kill pathogens, Cargill uses citric acid.
Click here to watch the video.