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Some customers are interested in reintroducing finely textured beef post ‘pink slime’ debacle, says Cargill

By Elaine WATSON, 14-Sep-2012

Related topics: Meat, fish and savory ingredients, Suppliers, Food safety, Food labeling and marketing

Some customers have expressed an interest in re-introducing finely textured beef (FTB) to their ground beef products after a media storm over ‘pink slime’ prompted many to drop it earlier this year, says Cargill.

Cargill director of communications Michael Martin was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after FTB maker Beef Products Inc filed a lawsuit against ABC News accusing it of making false and defamatory statements about lean finely textured beef.

Martin, who said Cargill has had to scale back production of FTB at its beef processing facilities this year, would not say whether the firm is also considering legal action against ABC News or other media outlets, adding: “We don't publicly discuss potential litigation.”

The issue is perception, not facts or science

However, Cargill is working closely with customers “to determine how best to re-introduce FTB in their ground beef”, he said.

“The issue is perception, not facts or science, since FTB is 100% beef, 95%+ lean, reduces waste, increases available lean beef, keeps price down and has been consumed for 20 years without issue - until last March.”

He added: “There is interest by our customers.”

New labeling options are also being discussed, although there is no legal requirement to label FTB separately on pack as it is just beef, he said. Options being discussed are: ‘Includes finely textured beef’.

He added: “That may be one element involved with re-introduction by those that eliminated FTB from their ground beef specifications last March. The labels are approved and ready for use.”

Research: 'Pink slime' is in consumers' rear view mirror and fading fast

But what do consumers think?

In late April, Cargill ran consumer focus groups in Westchester County, New York; Orange County, California; Des Moines, Iowa; and Charlotte, NC, revealed Martin.

“We found that in a month’s time the issue was in consumers’ rear view mirror and fading fast.  When they learned how this 100% beef product is produced and why it has value to everyone from farm to fork, they were comfortable with it being included as part of their ground beef. 

“Most wondered what the big deal was and identified news media as being the second least credible source for information about food, better only than bloggers, who had the lowest credibility.”

As regards labeling, Cargill showed consumers “an array of options”, he said.

However, “they felt that it would be confusing because the vast majority of consumers have not heard the term ‘Finely Textured Beef’, therefore it would be misunderstood”.

He added: “The bottom line is that consumers are besieged daily with conflicting information about food and beverages.  One day something is good according to a report, and the next day it’s bad.  Consumers are overwhelmed and confused. 

“They also believe there are safeguards in place – USDA, FDA, etc. – to ensure food is safe, nutritious, abundant and affordable.”

Sustainability and finely textured beef

While FTB ”is a relatively small part” of Cargill’s beef business, Martin told this publication earlier this year, 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.

The irony 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”.

While some producers give the product a puff of ammoniated gas to kill pathogens, Cargill uses citric acid.  

Click here  to watch Cargill’s video about FTB production.