March 28, 2012
Pink Slime Operations Temporarily Suspended
On Monday, the maker of "pink slime" announced it would be suspending all operations at all but one plant due to the bad press social media has created over the beef process.
Craig Letch, director of food quality and assurance for Beef Products Inc., said business has taken a "substantial" hit since press coverage over the ammonia-treated filler went viral.The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided school districts may stop using the processed meat, while some retail chains pulled the products containing it from their shelves.
Federal regulators claim the product meets food safety standards, but critics say the product is an example of industrialized food production.
Beef Products said it will be suspending operations at three plants, affecting about 200 employees at each of the plants. Those employees will be receiving full salary and benefits for 60 days during the suspension.
The company will be trying to do damage control after social media helped exploit the "pink slime" beef process.
The lower-cost ingredient is made from bits of meat left over from other cuts, are heated and spun to remove most of the fat, then mixed together with lean mix and is compressed into blocks to make ground meat.
The product is then exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas in order kill bacteria like E. coli and salmonella.
Beef Products took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal last week, defending its product. It also launched a website to try and debunk myths about pink slime.
"We feel like when people can start to understand the truth and reality then our business will come back," Letch told The Associated Press. "It's 100 percent beef."
McDonald's and other fast food chains discontinued their use of ammonia-treated beef last year, substituting it for ground beef that is treated by citric acid.
Ammonia-treated beef does not have to be labeled because it is not an ingredient, but some estimates say it is used in at least half of the ground meat and burgers in the U.S.
Beef Products' plants in Amarillo produced about 200,000 pounds a day, while the Kansas and Iowa planets each produced about 350,000 pounds a day.
About 7 million pounds of beef bought for the National School Lunch Program is Beef Products' ammonia treated ground beef.
"I hope the U.S. government is also listening because it's partly responsible for lying to the public for allowing this cheap, low-quality meat filler to be used for so long without having to legally state its presence on packaging," Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver said in an email statement provided to The Associated Press.