BRADENTON --They call it "boneless lean beef trimmings," (BLBT) or "finely texturized lean beef", and it sounds like something your dietitian might suggest for you to eat when trying to lose a few pounds, or clean-up the arteries. Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and Cargill have gone to great lengths in developing a process they say is intended to reduce waste, while increasing protein. The American Meat Institute (AMI) says it satisfies customers desire for leaner foods. Others say it's better suited for dogs and call it "Pink Slime."
Manufactures won't say much about their proprietary patent-protected, centrifuge-driven, pathogen-eliminating process other than that the beef trimmings which are used to make BLBT are absolutely edible. It's the Wonder Bread of cow, the magic behind the nugget and seven million pounds have been purchased for the National School Lunch program.
In 2009, the NY Times called into question the safety of a new process to using what was once either discarded or used for dog food in the meat industry, but it was Jamie Oliver who first brought the pink slime into our living rooms a year ago in his TV series, "Food Revolution." He shared with viewers the grotesque process in which it was made and the role it played in school lunches around the country. It was so shocking, even fast food giants that had been serving their customers the BLBT, denounced any further use of the product.
McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King have discontinued purchasing any more of the product, but some retail food chains like Walmart, Ahold and Giant, still sell beef containing BLBT or "pink slime." It's said to be in 70 percent of the retail beef sold in America.
The two largest producers of BLBT are Beef Products Inc. and Cargill. The former uses an ammonium hydroxide bath to treat BLBT, the latter says it uses citric acid. Both are intended to kill the higher level of harmful bacteria found in close to the hide meat. In 2009, BPI attempted to reduce the amount of ammonium hydroxide used, in response to complaints of an ammonia smell, leading to several batches of meat headed for school lunches testing positive for E. Coli and Salmonella, which was uncovered by the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times piece.
Ammonium hydroxide (NH3(ag), is used in making fertilizers, explosives, household cleansers and in some other food products as a anti-microbial agent, which is why the U.S. Agriculture Department classifies it "generally safe." Like food radiation and fluoride, the role of NH3(ag) in American food culture is now being questioned as to whether more benefit actually comes from its use than harm, and whether it might just be a substitute to correct poorly handled product.
Detectable in 75 percent of Americans, phthalates are the plastic softeners that mimic estrogen. We produce six billion pounds of obesogen BPA (bisphenol A), used to make plastics and it's detectable in 93 percent of Americans. BPA is also in the lining of cans and leaches into the food and interferes with the hormone that signals our body when we're full.
Cattle are injected with six different steroids and 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in America are consumed by farm animals. Scientists believe that the near-constant consumption of these antibiotics is responsible for the lack of resistance to many bacteria. A recent study revealed that the more red meat we eat, the more we shorten our lives.
America is 5 percent of the world population, yet it consumes 20 percent of the chemicals produced in the world. We also spend more on healthcare and pharmaceuticals then China and India combined. Hopefully, American consumers will soon make the seemingly clear connection.
editor's note: a previous version of this story had reported that Cargill also used ammonium hydroxide in their BLBT process. The company, which at first did not return requests for comment, has since told TBT that they use citric acid.
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