My family and I, like all of you, have been busy the past few weeks. Our day-to-day work has involved calving, moving yearlings to different pastures, hauling protein block to the cows on the desert, buying bulls, studying the futures market, attending beef industry meetings, and a birthday party or two. It has been a little busier than normal, but not unusually so.
What was unusual was that while we were working and making long-term business decisions, our industry was being attacked by the media. It is unbelievably frustrating to work hard, day in and day out, taking time away from our kids because we believe our hard work now will continue to improve our ranch and our industry for their generation. Only to come home, sit down to dinner and listen to the news anchors tell millions of Americans that beef is unsafe.
To be fair, LFTB (Lean Finely Textured Beef, aka pink slime) is not a self-explanatory term and it does take a little time and research to understand the process. Here is an excerpt from an article on Food Safety News that explains the process:
“…any home cook could separate beef fat from beef muscle with a knife and cutting board, creating the same boneless lean beef trimmings.
But long lines of butchers working with knives on such a difficult task would not be economically feasible. That’s why before BPI came up with a mechanized process to do this, such trimmings were often leftovers that ended up being used for pets or oils.
To reduce waste and increase protein, BPI did its own research and development and came up with a proprietary process. While the company does protect its intellectual property, it is not secretive when it comes to sharing the outcomes.
The BPI grinding process is built around a centrifuge that removes beef fat, resulting in a product that is 90 percent or more lean beef. The process includes the use of an ammonia and water bath (ammonium hydroxide), which has proven to be one of the beef industry’s most successful interventions against harmful bacteria — microbes that can sicken and kill.
It works as an antimicrobial agent by slightly increasing the naturally occurring ammonium hydroxide levels in beef and by doing so eliminates harmful pathogens. The use of ammonium hydroxide is not uncommon in food manufacturing.
It is used as a leavening agent in baking, to produce caramel, and in drinking water. It’s used in grains, baked goods, condiments, pancakes, chocolates, puddings and cheeses.
At BPI, the result is a flash frozen product, inexpensive and safe, for hamburger patties, taco meat and sausages.”
I don’t claim to be an expert in meat processing and I have learned a lot about this process over the past several days. The most interesting part, in my opinion, is how many other food products also use this process. I really had no idea that ammonium hydroxide was so prevalent in food manufacturing. Am I going to limit my family’s intake of those particular food items? No, I am not. When I learned about the rigorous, science-based research that was done on this process before it was approved by the Food Safety Inspection Service, I decided that it is perfectly safe for my family.
I will leave you with the following statement from Dr. H. Russell Cross, Professor and Head of Department of Animal Science, Texas A & M University:
“As Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) in the early 90s, I and my staff evaluated numerous research projects before approving lean, finely textured beef as a safe source of high-quality protein. The FSIS safety review process was and is an in-depth, science-based process that spans years, many research projects and involves many experts across all levels of the agency-and in this case, the process proved the product is safe.
“Approving lean finely textured beef as safe was the right decision, and today, it remains a safe way to meet the nutritional needs of a growing population. All beef is a good or excellent source of 10 essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc and B-vitamins. “