Readers who’ve long been following the beef industry’s response to the controversy surrounding lean finely textured beef (LFTB, commonly known as “pink slime”) will remember the first website and Twitter hash tag marshaled in defense of the product: “pinkslimeisamyth.”
But within a few days someone on the BPI crisis response team apparently decided to ditch that rather clumsy name in favor of “beefisbeef” — a catchphrase now repeated over and over (and over) again by LFTB supporters on this blog and elsewhere.
The gist of the slogan is that LFTB is 100% identical to what most consumers think of when they hear “ground beef,” i.e., a piece of whole muscle meat ground up. “Beef is beef,” say LFTB supporters, so stop demanding labeling for LFTB. Comments worded almost exactly like this one appear frequently on my blog:
Here is the LABEL
Ingredients: BEEF, plus more LEAN BEEF.
That was easy.
But as Helena Bottemiller writes today in a Food Safety News report, apparently there are qualitative, material differences between LFTB and ground beef. Specifically, according to the scientists quoted in Bottemiller’s report — including the only scientist invited to BPI’s governor-heavy press conference last week — LFTB differs from ground beef in several important respects, including the presence of ammonia in the finished product and differences in texture and protein composition. After a summary of the evidence, Bottemiller asks:
So if LFTB contains added ammonia, is 100 times more alkaline, and has both a different texture and sometimes smell, why isn’t it labeled as a component when it’s thawed and mixed in ground beef?
A very good question.
And here’s a question of my own. Even if we buy into the “beef is beef” claim, no one can deny that the presence of LFTB in a burger affects the final taste and texture, one way or the other.
BPI claims on its website that the effect is positive:
In study after study, taste panel after taste panel, consumers have consistently shown a preference for ground meat and other products made from BPI ingredients. A taste panel conducted on our behalf by South Dakota State University confirms why our lean beef is a preferred ground beef ingredient.
Interestingly enough, if you dig into the actual study commissioned by BPI to support its “LFTB burgers are preferred” claim, you’ll see that the higher the LFTB ratio in the burger, the higher it was rated by taste test panelists on the “tenderness” variable, a finding which fully comports with Helena Bottelmiller’s reporting today that:
. . . according to a 1995 study on LFTB by Ying He and Joseph Sebranek of Iowa State University, LFTB contains more serum and connective tissue proteins and less myofibrillar proteins than muscle meat, giving it a softer texture.
Meanwhile, in his own admittedly informal taste test, Associated Press food editor JM Hirsch gave his LFTB-containing burger at thumbs down:
And then there was the texture. Unpleasantly chewy bits of what I can only describe as gristle, though they were not visible, seemed to stud the meat of the pink slime burger. The result was a mealy chew that, while not overtly unpleasant, didn’t leave me wanting another bite.
But the point is this: LFTB might well be valued by some consumers precisely because it results in a softer burger, and other consumers may want to avoid LFTB for that same reason (or for a whole host of other reasons — lingering ammonia being just one of them). So how do we accommodate both sets of consumers?
Dude, just label it.
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