A number of US retail chains have announced an end to their purchase of ground beef containing ‘pink slime’ – leaving the meat processing sector in dismay and unable to forecast the long-term impact on the industry.
Over the last couple of weeks, several US retailers have bowed to consumer pressure and publically vowed to stop buying and selling ground beef products containing lean finely textured beef – which has come to be known as ‘pink slime’.
Widespread consumer concerns followed the claims of two former US Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists that the product was approved for use in ground beef products for political reasons despite there being safety concerns.
The American Meat Institute (AMI) told FoodQualityNews.com that meat prices in these stores are likely to increase as a result.
It also reiterated its amazement at the level of attention ‘pink slime’ has achieved despite there being “little merit” in many of the media claims.
“We understand the retailer’s decision, but at the moment nobody knows what it means for the industry. In the short term will mean probably mean that prices will go up in these stores,” said AMI vice president of public affairs Eric Mittenthal.
“If you take lean finely textured beef out of these ground products, it means that more than 1.5m cattle need to be slaughtered and processed to make up the difference.”
“It is something that has happened very quickly. The product has been around for more than 20 years. We understand consumer’s concerns over the last few weeks, but we still hope to ease consumer concerns.”
Several major US retailers including Walmart and Sam’s Club have vowed to “begin offering fresh ground beef that does not contain lean finely textured beef (LFTB),” in response to the recent concerns.
“While the USDA and experts agree that beef containing LFTB is safe and nutritious, we are committed to listening to our customers and providing the quality products they want at prices they can afford,” said a Walmart statement.
Safeway, Costco and Kroger have also crumbled under consumer pressure.
US-based retailer Kroger said: “In response to customer concerns, The Kroger Co. will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef.”
Concerns lack “merit”
Mittenthal added that the decision not to include ‘pink slime’ in ground beef will not come at an additional production cost to processors.
“Ground beef will continue to be made in the same way; lean finely textured beef will just not be included,” he said.
“If the market demands that it isn’t in meat, then we have to take it out of the product. It depends on consumer demand.”
Despite showing understanding in the decision being taken by US retailers, Mittenthal reiterated AMI’s shock.
“Our senior vice president of public affairs Jane Riley has said that in her 20 years of experience she has never seen a story get so much attention in the media with so little merit.”
“It’s surprising that so much information about this product has become lost. It is a safe, nutritional product but the facts have been completely lost,” Mittenthal added.