Slime’s Social Demise

Katey Parker

Katey Parker › Katey's first food memory involves herself hands deep and covered in Gregg's famous chocolate cake, resulting ...

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What you don’t know won’t hurt you.

Except now we know. Not just what pink slime is, but who it comes from and where you can find it. From supermarkets to school lunches, it’s been under our nose (and in most of our stomachs) for more than 8 years, filling both our beef patties and the deep pockets of its creators and suppliers.

Now, pink slime seems to be disappearing. According to Food Safety News, Beef Products Inc., the nation's leading maker of "Lean Finely Textured Beef" (pink slimes official name), is suspending production at three plants, accounting for approximately 70 percent of the company's capacity to produce the ammonia-doused slime. Fast food chains McDonald’s and Burger King have stopped buying it. Supermarkets giants, from Stop & Shop to Kroger’s, will no longer carry it. School districts across the country have said no to the slime.

With demand down, pink slime maker AFA Foods was forced to close its doors, filing for bankruptcy earlier this week.

Who can we thank for this abolition? It’s hard to assume McDonald’s expressed concern for the health of Americans, or that Wal-Mart cared deeply for our children’s futures.

All of these actions have been driven by the voice of the consumer. Media these days is now in the hands of millions, with social networks at our fingertips, ready to use whenever our opinions need expressing.

And use it we will. The result?

AFA interim Chief Executive Officer Ron Allen said in court papers:

"Ongoing media attention has called into question the wholesomeness" of the meat, and has "dramatically reduced the demand for all ground beef products." 

(from Bloomberg.com)

When it comes to our wallets, knowledge is power. When it comes to losing money, companies are forced to listen and adapt. Kroger’s got the picture, and used social media to express their "adaptation," shown by their March 22nd Facebook post:

"We have listened to your concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef – while fully approved by the USDA for safety and quality – is something you do not want in ground beef. You are our top priority and for that reason we have decided to stop purchasing ground beef that contains lean finely textured beef."

The New York Times first questioned industrial ground beef in a December 2009 article, even citing that "school lunch officials said that in some years Beef Products testing results were worse than many of the program’s two dozen other suppliers, which use traditional meat processing methods."

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver exposed the slime last April on his ABC TV show, with a graphic demonstration of how slime is made, adding extra emphasis by grabbing ammonia from a child-locked cupboard. It was disgusting then, as the audience’s faces show, and it is now.

So why did it take so long for Americans to yell and scream? Most likely, it was its association with school lunches that struck a chord. After all, the majority of Facebook users are women ages 18-44, compiled of millions of mothers whose anger spilled onto the keyboard once the news broke. One of these moms, Bettina Elias Siegel, used her blogger fame from The Lunch Tray to cook up a petition on Change.org against pink slime that reached over 200,000 signatures in just a few days.

While it is still approved by the USDA, we can all hope pink slime is on its way out of our food supply. American consumers have taken it into their own hands to make sure of it, from pressuring stores, locating sources of grass-fed beef, or stopping meat consumption completely. It is hard to say if this issue would have been so completely uncovered, or acted upon without access to mainstream social media.

Yet other issues in our food system still remain. The FDA has admitted to the danger of antibiotics used on farm animals for 35 years, with no actions taken. Our diet of genetically engineered foods has shown liver damage, increased allergies, and toxic reactions to our digestive tract, yet are declared perfectly safe. Looking ahead, the USDA has not only proposed for the poultry industry to do its own inspections, but issued new rules for inspections to increase to 200 birds per minute, or 3 birds per second. (Is it just me, or is that impossible?)

And if that doesn’t get you riled up, take a peek at the 52-page USDA list of chemicals used in our food supply (most without labels), via Mark Bittman.

We can hope that more of our industrial food producers understand that transparency is reality, and change their practices. We can hope that our government sees the dangers industrial agriculture creates for our health and environment. Until then, we can use the glory of the pink slime take down to recognize that in this day and age, our right to freedom of speech is a powerful force, especially when it comes to our stomachs.

Good bye, slime. Time to go meet my butcher.