Under Pressure, ‘Pink Slime’ Producer Shutters Plants

The pink slime has hoisted the white flag, Associated Press reports. Beef Products Inc, the chief producer of the “lean, highly textured beef” that has been raising controversy in the news, has announced that it will be suspending operation three out of the four plants where the product is manufactured. The plants scheduled for closure are located in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, Iowa. The plants will remain shuttered for a minimum of 60 days. Craig Letch, the director of food quality and assurance at the company declined to speculate on their eventual fate. The 200 employees effected by the closures will be paid their full salary and benefits for the duration.

Federal regulators say the product, which has been used for years and is known in the industry as “lean, finely textured beef,” meets food safety standards. But critics call the product an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.

The company has been under fire for several weeks, ever since consumer advocates launched a two-pronged attack in the news and on social network about the beef additive that is commonly sold in cheaper beef products and also frequently finds its way into school lunches. The USDA bought frozen beef containing “pink slime,” and sold on it to school districts for use in their school lunch programs for years.

The lower-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.

In response to consumer demands, fast food chains, stores and finally, school districts started announcing plans to either phase out the use of the additive or stop using it immediately. Burger King, McDonald’s and Taco Bell have all said that they will discontinue the use of meat with the additive, and Alaska School District, and Miami-Dade school district, among others, will take advantage of the option now offered by USDA to purchase meat without pink slime in it.

Early attempts by the company to counteract the perception that the additive is dangerous, such as placing a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and launching an education website at BeefIsBeef.com, proved unsuccessful. Suspending operations in the plants was the first step to what they hope will be an overhaul the company’s operations.

The company, meanwhile, will develop a strategy for rebuilding business and addressing what Letch called misconceptions about the beef the company makes.

“We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back,” he said. “It’s 100 percent beef.”

03 28, 2012
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