A Mother Who Lost a Child to E. Coli Criticizes the Pink Slime Petition

by Bettina Elias Siegel on March 17, 2012

This morning I read in Food Safety News a deeply moving piece by Nancy Donley, a mother who lost a child to E. coli and who is now committed to the cause of food safety.  In the piece, Ms. Donley criticizes the Change.org petition I started to remove so-called “pink slime” in school food.

I urge you to take a look at it.  Here’s an excerpt:

After what I personally experienced watching my son suffer and die, I am very skeptical and cynical about for-profit meat companies and their professed commitment to food safety. Not all companies “walk their talk.” BPI does.

There has been a lot of misinformation swirling around the Internet and on TV about lean beef trim produced by Beef Products, Inc.  As I stated earlier, I have personally visited their plant and the categorization of calling their product “pink slime” is completely false and incendiary.  Consumers need to understand that this product is meat, period, and that the use of ammonia hydroxide in minute amounts during processing improves the safety of the product and is routinely used throughout the food industry. There are many types of interventions including food-grade antimicrobial sprays which are used on all manner of foods.  Some of these things may sound icky and gross, especially when inaccurately portrayed.  These interventions are necessary in ridding meat of deadly pathogens and are required to prove they pose no threats to consumers. Companies would be prohibited by the USDA and FDA to use substances that could be harmful in human consumption.
I am very concerned that mis-categorization campaigns such as this “pink slime” campaign will cause well-intentioned companies such as BPI to cease innovations for developing better food safety technologies and strategies.

I just sent Ms. Donley this email and hope that she and I will be able to speak:

I’m Bettina Siegel, the person who started the now-infamous pink slime petition.  I’m so sorry for your terrible loss (which I already knew of) and I was greatly moved reading your article in Food Safety News this morning in defense of BPI and its product.  I would like to speak with you about it further if you’re willing.

As you may have seen from my demand for a correction from NPR two days ago, read partially on the air yesterday, my concern with this product has never been the ammonia hydroxide.  What does trouble me is BPI’s use of a raw material which by its very nature is highly pathogenic, such that we all might be endangered in the case of human error (as when BPI’s ammonia system stopped working for sixty seconds in 2009, leading to 26,000+ pounds of infected meat) or a new strain of E coli — not part of BPI’s admirably advanced testing protocol — emerges (as one did in Germany last summer, killing 45 and sickening 3,700+.)

I’d very much like to hear your thoughts and – whether we do eventually speak or not — I’m sharing your views with my readers right now as they are an important part of this discussion.

Regards,

Bettina

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Liz March 17, 2012 at 9:40 am

This is one of the main reasons I’ve gone vegetarian. If we have to “treat” our meat to make it safe to eat, we probably shouldn’t be eating it anyway. Rather than picking the lesser of to evils, I just stay away from it all together.

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EdT. March 18, 2012 at 9:25 am

Liz – unfortunately, it is not just the meat that we have to treat. There have been plenty of cases of infected vegetables as well.

Whether meat, seafood, dairy, or vegetable, the highest risk is when you eat your food raw or undercooked. Which is a point I am surprised hasn’t been brought up yet during the “pink slime debate”: the safest way of treating food you are preparing is to cook it to the proper temperature, then serve it within an appropriate amount of time.

~EdT.

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dixie March 17, 2012 at 10:51 am

i am sorry for her loss but how can a peson defend a product that is supposed to be used for pet food?? thats my question.. i dont feed my children dog feed and sure as heck dont want them eating it at school…

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Mary April 21, 2012 at 1:37 am

Yet it’s okay to feed animals stuff with tons of processing? They’re animals with feelings too, and they definitely adapted to eating fresh animals, not processed animals. Speaking of this, why are we feeding cows antibiotics and corn?

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Rich Jochum March 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

Bertina:

We appreciate your perspective and the dialogue that is developing.

Your response to Nancy Donley was respectful and appropriate and very much appreciated by those who know her personally.

I hope the two of you are able to connect as you requested.

Regards

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Bettina Elias Siegel March 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Rich,

Thank you for sharing that with me. As a mother myself, it is so difficult to imagine what Nancy has gone through and it’s truly admirable that she’s been able to constructively use her grief for the greater good. I know that even if she and I might differ on this particular issue, we both care deeply about the well-being and safe feeding of children.

Regards,

Bettina

[Rich Jochum works for Beef Products Inc., maker of Lean Beef Trimmings.]

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KEVIN FREDERICK March 18, 2012 at 2:28 am

If in fact what happened is true, it still doesn’t make a bit of difference to me , although I’m sorry for her loss wholeheartedly. If this pink slime is 100 % beef then why must it be mixed with other beef as a filler and not used as beef itself. If the former under secretary of the USDA who approved this SLOP and executives from B.P.I will eat one PINK SLIME PATTY a day for a month or even a full year not mixed with REAL BEEF then maybe I will start to agree with them. Don’t let them get to you Bettina. Wouldn’t surprise me if they paid this lady to make that Statement.

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EdT. March 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

You bring up a good point, Kevin. I too wondered why LBT was only used as a filler/extender, and why they didn’t just make entire patties of the stuff. My guess is economics: the “trim” doesn’t represent enough product to create patties at the same cost they can use it to “extend” a given amount of ground beef. Also, at the original level of ammonium hydroxide used, LBT had a distinct (and disagreeable) taste, and my guess here is that they kept the amount of it used per beef patty down to a level meant to minimize that taste.

As far as BPI paying Ms. Donley for her statements – I don’t think it matters whether or not they sponsored her (though I would hope that if they did, she would disclose the fact.) Her “crusade” would be a totally natural response to a loss such as the one she experienced, and I accept her statements in that context (though I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.)

~EdT.

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EdT. March 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

Bettina – there is one more comment I feel needs to be made. You have really gone out of your way to show us how one can disagree, without being disagreeable: how to be an advocate for something without turning it into the next “War On…”. I know that there have been some personal attacks, but you have moderated them, and kept the discussion civil. I hope that others will learn from your example.

Thanks!

~EdT.

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Rose March 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Not a comment, just a question.
When did the U.S. meat industry begin using lean beef trim and the ammonia treatment in ground beef?
I hope someone knows.
Thanks, all.

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Bettina Elias Siegel March 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Hi Rose:

Just sent you an email. BPI tarted selling LBT around 2001.

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David Orr March 21, 2012 at 5:07 am

Bettina,

I am with you 100%. The lady who’s backing up BPI is obviously well-intentioned but she’s been worked over by the corporate hacks to the point where she’s just shilling for them. YOU ARE CORRECT: the issue is not really about ammonium hydroxide, as bad as that is. It’s about a system that has become so poorly and sloppily (in both senses of the term) managed that the companies have no choice BUT to use AHO to protect themselves from being sued for killing more people with E. coli and other pathogens. This is just another scam for the livestock and beef industries’ profit-making benefit. They must be brought down. They are killers.

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