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Renowned Beef Expert Addresses 'Pink Slime' Controversy

Professor Mindy Brashears says pulling beef from the marketplace puts cost in shaky position.

Written by Leslie Cranford

Brashears maintains that Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB),  misnamed “pink slime,” is a safe and wholesome food product.

Brashears maintains that Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), misnamed “pink slime,” is a safe and wholesome food product.

Because of the recent social media hysteria centered on “pink slime” and its subsequent removal almost entirely from the marketplace, beef prices will soar and feeding the world population economically will be much more difficult.

That is the prediction of Mindy Brashears, professor in food microbiology and food safety at Texas Tech, and director of its International Center for Food Industry Excellence, as well as a member of the Center for Biodefense, Law and Public Policy housed at the Texas Tech School of Law.

Brashears maintains that Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), misnamed “pink slime,” is a safe and wholesome food product.

“Unfortunately, due to the spread of misinformation in the media with a particular negative push in the social media networks, this product has been removed from the marketplace,” Brashears said.

Brashears said LFTB is the product remaining on the carcass after the steaks and roasts are cut from the bones.

“Consider when you eat a steak at home and the fact that you cannot remove all of the meat that is close to the bone with a knife. The same thing happens in a processing plant.  The industry developed a system to recover this product. Because the product is made up of small pieces of meat, it is indeed finely textured and does not look ‘typical’ because the texture is different,” Brashears said. “However, it is 100 percent beef and it is safe. 

“An ammonia process is used to treat the product which actually results in a safer product for the consumer. Unfortunately, the media painted the use of ammonia as the use of ‘household’ ammonia. This is simply not true. Many foods contain ammonia and the ammonia used in this product does not alter the nutritional value or make it unwholesome.” 

Brashears said the decision to bash the beef industry based on misinformation will have several consequences.

  • “The cost of ground beef will rise. This product allows all consumers in the U.S. to have access to beef. It keeps the cost of ground beef low both in the marketplace and in restaurants.” 
  • “As an agricultural scientist, I feel it is important for us to responsibly use the resources we are given. Now a significant portion of high-quality meat that the animal was raised to provide to the consumer will be wasted. The industry estimates that an additional 1.4 million animals annually will be needed to replace the beef lost from the removal of this product from the marketplace.”
  • “Consumers need to realize that there are people starving around the world. Our world population is expected to increase significantly in the next few years. Many scientists feel that our food supply must double in size to feed the world by the year 2050. We have just removed a high-quality and safe source of protein from the marketplace. No one is considering the impact this will ultimately have on the developing world where there are millions of starving people.”

“Sustainability and advancing agricultural technologies go hand in hand,” Brashears said. “Sustainability needs to be redefined into a term that indeed describes a system that will sustain our food needs in the human population and also, efficiently use our natural resources including the plants and animals that are on this plant. We have to be good stewards of our resources. Throwing away high-quality and safe beef is not being a good steward.”

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17 Responses to “Renowned Beef Expert Addresses 'Pink Slime' Controversy”

  1. Charles Says:

    I don’t think the existence of the product is the problem (though one must ask why something we are intended to eat needs to be cleaned with ammonia before being reintroduced). The problem is the deceptive practice of the entire meat industry and the spin they’ve used to hide the nature of a lot of their products. Why was an expose required to alert the nation of the addition of LFTB in the first place? What else is being done to the meat that we’re being sold in the stores?

    And none of this meat is going to feed the starving people around the world. That’s a red herring. The starving people are surviving via subsistence farming and by using every bit of the meat they do produce (either raised or poached). If the meat industry was really concerned with feeding the starving, they’d reprocess LFTB into a spam-like canned good and go hand it out in the rural areas of some country like Malawi or Ethopia.

  2. Charles Says:

    corrections:
    something intended for our consumption*
    Ethiopia*

  3. Troyce Says:

    If the beef being used is safe then why does it need an ammonia treatment. If the beef that remains on the bone is the same beef that’s cut into steaks then why is ammonia required at all to rid it of pathogens.

  4. Mindy Says:

    Thank you for the excellent points. You are correct…the meat is not going to feed people in starving countries nor is that what I am suggesting. Unfortunately no one understands agriculture anymore. It is a system. The resources we are blessed with should be used wisely. If we have to grow 1.4 million animals to replace this product that is now discarded then the feed,water, land,labor and all other resources all now have to be directed to growing these animals and not meeting the needs of the hungry in the US and worldwide.

    I must tell you that “starving” people are not surviving. Sadly, they are dying. I spent last week in el Salvador and next week I will be in Honduras helping to establish food systems so they to not starve. I spend weeks of my life in the developing world. Its also about quality of life…not feeding them spam. They are people with children, emotions, hurts, fears and dreams and deserve to have food and quality of life. All people are valuable.

    I spent the afternoon at the south plains food bank here in Lubbock with one of my daughters. Their greatest need is meat. One in 5 on the south plains is classified as “food insecure” meaning they go hungry at least a portion of time each month. They deserve to have access to food as well.

    Taking a wholesome food off the market deprives people of food either directly or Indirectly. We must consider the needs of others and make sound decisions based on facts.

  5. Capt. Obvious Says:

    For the same reason milk is pasturized. It makes it safer for human consumption, safer being the key word here.

  6. Dan Says:

    I would agree with the comment by Charles, above. The existence of the product isn’t the problem; its the perception by the public that its unfit for human consumption due to the method in which it is produced. Though “pink slime” is an off-putting term, I don’t feel media reports about it have been particularly unfair. The method in which it is produced is simply a bit uncomfortable to many people. As a comparison, wastewater can also be made safe for consumption by humans by treating it with physical and chemical proceses(look at El Paso), and it’s a good and necessary use of limited resources, but that doesn’t mean people are going to be be super-excited to drink it unless they have to. Giving it a nicer name, like Ultra-filtered consumption-quality waste effulent, doesn’t help that perception much. Given a reasonable alternative, they may choose not to drink it. Unlike mass-produced drinking water, however, there are lots of alternatives to beef in the marketplace, including simply buying less of more expensive, non-LFTB containing beef. While I certainly agree that LFTB is a good use of a resource, ultimately, the consumer market will determine the fate of this beef product. If people decide that they’d rather have abundant cheap beef with LFTB in it, food suppliers will make it widely available again. If not, they’ll buy something else. The real losers in this situation are the people working at the production plants. It’s almost as if the food industry knew that simply coming out and saying what they were planning on selling to the general public would generally be offputting to people, so they decided not to market this product very heavily on the front end. Lastly, the notion that somehow bringing the reputation of LFTB back is going to help the plight of starving people around the world is nonsense. Beef is far from the most effeciently produced protein source in the world, and I don’t see LFTB replacing Plumpy-Nut as a food relief resource anytime soon. However, someone in the food industry that produces LFTB can look into that.

  7. Josh Says:

    Amonia is used in many food treatments. For example, All black olives have to be ran through amonia in order to taste anything like what people think olives taste like.

  8. STeven Says:

    If you really think that what you are eating literally came off the animal and landed in the grocery store with no treatments of any anitbacterial or sterilization you are sadly mistaken. Dead animals/milk/cheese/breads have no shelf life. I am ok with that. I for one would not like all of my grocery stores costing as much as whole foods or trader joes to get “natural” ingredients, if you are not fine with that then go shop there.

  9. yallie Says:

    Ammonia is used to kill off harmful bacteria that results from feeding cows a grain-based diet. If the meat industry fed cows what they are intended to eat, grass, then there would be no need for the ammonia in the first place.

    And why is she talking about starving people in the world? While that is most certainly a pressing issue, this particular topic has nothing to do with that. It has to do with the fact that as a country, we eat way too much meat. It is not sustainable. We need to cut down our consumption.

  10. tom Says:

    The market decides and the market’s demand for low prices drive manufactures and food processors alike to find the most efficient and least costly methods of delivering a product to the market, thus pink slime. By the way, pretzels get thier brown color from being treated with lie before baking, shall we ban them?

  11. Carole Says:

    There has been some scolding by the insiders in the Ag industry – implying that people that have a problem with the concept of LFTB don’t understand agriculture or the meat industry. As someone who grew up on a farm and raised livestock for food as well as for sale, I understand perfectly what I’ve read about this process. I understand that whenever we took a farm raised calf in for slaughter when I was a kid, what we received back was healthy, good meat packaged to perfection. What is distressing now, as a “city dweller” is the realization that the reason I’ve bought meat in the store in past years that had a funky texture, smelled “off” and left a weird substance on my hands was probably good muscle meat that was mixed with scrap meat and connective tissue that was shaved off the bone and cast into a centrifual process that spins off the fat, and then treated with ammonia to clean it. What I thought was meat that maybe was a little “old” or had too much fat, was actually meat mixed with this LFTB. It may be a good source of protein, but personally, unless I can find beef that tastes and cooks like the beef I grew up with, I’d really rather find my protein elsewhere. What I just wish was that this hadn’t been kept a secret from the consumer. If people wish to eat this, that is fine – their choice. In this case, it wasn’t a choice – it was a complete lack of transparency. I expected more than that. Evidently, so did a lot of other people.

  12. Troy Says:

    Yallie,
    I just can’t let this misinformation go without a comment.

    1) Your implication about grass-fed being safer is WRONG. Argentina is predominately a grass-fed system (90%) yet they have the highest E.coli related HUS rate in the world. Appoximately 50 people in 100,000 per year.

    2) Food is a global system. In order to replace the beef now going to waste, we will kill 1.4 million more cattle. That takes additonal resources such as fuel, grain, labor, acres that would be devoted to something else. Food is a limited resouce. If we waste it here, it hurts the global system.

    Get your facts straight before you repeat something you heard someone else say. That only perpetuates the problem rather than works toward a solution.

  13. Charles Says:

    Mindy, you’re right, the starving of the world can be barely said to be surviving. But if what they need are calories and protein, they could do a lot worse than cheap/free packaged meat shipped from America. Granted, that doesn’t help the beef industry cut cost or make up for lost volume, but it is something that the meat industry could use to help their image.

    As yallie says, we eat way too much meat in this nation as it is. Cutting consumption and adding more efficient proteins to our diet would help a lot of things: the environment, our health overall, obesity specifically. If more expensive hamburger causes that to happen, then I’m ok with it.

    Carole, if you live in Lubbock, look up Pai Dom. They’re a farm up near Amarillo that produce sustainable meats and it is delicious.

  14. Laura Says:

    Charles, Yallie & Carole, good points here. I want to hear a rebuttle from Mindy.

  15. Linda Says:

    This article angers me. Who gives a crap if not everyone will have access to beef? At least it will no longer be prison-grade beef.
    How does nipping the pink slime issue in the bud effect those who are starving? Certainly, starving folks do not solely rely on beef.

  16. Teri Says:

    I agree with Charles. Further, I don’t think the media overblew this issue but shined a light on the deceptive practices. Maybe what is needed is a better definition of “meat/beef”. The “beef” in the hormone free cuts of steak I serve my family is not equivalent to the “beef” in the Lean Finely Textured Beef. People are more and more concerned about the quality of their lives and what they put into their bodies. The public demands transparency. Just label it. The next issue is GMFs – Genetically Modified Foods. What does the longitudinial research on consuming LFTB and GMFs say it does to our bodies?

  17. Michael Says:

    Laura: All of those points were refuted and/or lacked factual information which makes them opinions. I believe Mindy has adequately explained why the various parties posting above are misinformed. Also, the word is “rebuttal”. That is all.

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Featured Expert

Mindy Brashears

Mindy Brashears is a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence.

View her profile in our online Experts Guide.

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