National Consumers League

Continued fallout from 'pink slime' hysteria


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Several weeks ago I blogged on the fate of the makers of so-called “pink slime”(its real name is Lean Finely Textured Beef or “LFTB” ) after reading a May 12, 2012 New York Times article by editorial page writer Phillip Boffey entitled “What If It Weren’t Called Pink Slime.” Boffey took a dispassionate look at the product and concluded, as the title of his article indicates, that “The first casualties of the hamburger ingredient contemptuously dubbed 'pink slime' will likely not be anyone who eats it but rather the workers who make it.” At the time of the original media hype, NCL and Consumer Federation of America issued statements in an effort to quell the negative buzz and consumer fear about LFTB, but the horse had left the barn by then and, in the ensuing weeks, the makers of LFTB were forced to drastically cut production. Boffey bemoaned the loss of 650 jobs at the plants that produce LFTB resulting from media-generated hysteria over what is actually a good product. He said it well: “The irony and the absurdity are that consumer experts say L.F.T.B. is safe, nutritious and relatively inexpensive.” So two months later, what is the fallout for consumers now that the supply of LFTB is greatly reduced? Well, we looked through data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and ran some calculations. The marketing division at USDA publishes figures on what people are buying and sure enough, because of vastly reduced supply, consumers are now forced to pay more for lean beef, while the fattiest ground beef is available for less. As a result, consumers are opting to buy the cheaper, fattier product. A year ago, fattier ground beef (73 percent lean) made up 37 percent of ground beef sold; it now comprises 48 percent of the ground beef sold. Conversely, there is now 23.3 percent less of the leanest ground beef (93 percent lean) available on the market. Lean ground beef is also 50 cents more expensive per pound at wholesale, meaning the price at the grocery store has jumped by close to 75 cents. This is a marked price increase and one that will hurt consumers. None of this should have happened. Indeed, it’s a truly unfortunate result at a time when obesity is on the rise in America and every health expert is telling us to reduce, not increase, our fat intake. What I said in my first blog still applies: What a shame.