News Feature | November 6, 2013

"Pink Slime" Controversy Leads To Labeling Changes At Cargill

Source: Food Online
Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis, associate editor
Follow Me On Twitter @SamIAmOnFood

Ground Beef

Consumer demand drives beef processor to label finely textured beef

One of the world’s largest processors of beef, Cargill, says it will begin labeling when its Finely Textured Beef (being commonly called “pink slime”) is used in making U.S. ground beef products. The company is making this move in response to consumers’ increasing demand for clarity in how companies make food and how food products are represented on packaging.

Food labeling has been a hot topic for debate for quite some time. Last year’s “pink slime” uproar got the ball of controversy rolling, and Washington State’s vote regarding genetically modified organisms (GMO) on food labels is the latest installment of turmoil involving food labeling.

Cargill’s Finely Textured Beef is a processed meat product made from hunks of beef that are exposed to citric acid to kill biological contaminants, like E. coli. The company makes this product as a less fatty alternative to ground beef. The new labels on the product’s packaging will debut early next year, and comes about in thanks to a Cargill consumer survey. Over the last 18 months, more than 3,000 consumers expressed their view about how the product was made. “We've listened to the public, as well as our customers, and that is why today we are declaring our commitment to labeling Finely Textured Beef,” says John Keating, president of Cargill.

This survey came about due to intense coverage from the media of Beef Products’ (a South Dakota-based company) similar product called “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB). Beef Products, however, uses ammonium hydroxide, rather than citric acid, in the process of killing biological pathogens. Citric acid was seen as a more tolerable alternative than ammonium hydroxide, which allowed Cargill to evade much of the heat Beef Products experienced. Needless to say, the uproar from the media crushed Beef Products, which closed three of its plants and many employees losing their jobs. That’s not to say Cargill didn’t feel the effects of the negative press. The company witnessed demand for Finely Textured Beef drop 80 percent from the “pink slime” controversy.

The USDA does not require labeling on finely textured beef products, but Cargill, who is slowly recovering from the damage of the “Pink Slime” furor, wants customers to know exactly what they’re getting. The new packaging will state that the product “contains Finely Textured Beef” on boxes of ground beef which are repackaged for sale by retailers. The company plans to have the same printed information on the packages of this product which are sold directly to consumers in time for 2014’s patio and barbecue season.