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Consumers have right to know facts about ‘pink slime’

Published: Thursday, April 5, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 5, 2012 03:04

During the past month, consumers and media outlets have expressed outrage over a beef additive found in many products that resembles a “pink slime” in its manufacturing process. 

The product, called “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB), is composed of carcass trimmings that have been warmed, centrifuged for fat removal and treated with ammonium  hydroxide gas to destroy pathogens such as E. coli, according to The Atlantic. Then, the product is compressed into blocks and put in freezers prior to being used. 

Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deems LFTB safe for human consumption, the public as a whole has rightfully been disgusted by the facts behind their daily meals. Consumers should be allowed to dictate what products they put in their bodies, and attempts to keep the product in the food industry without public knowledge should be stopped. 

The uproar surrounding LFTB can be attributed to both its ammonium hydroxide ingredient and cultural values. 

Though E. coli cases have decreased substantially because of the ammonium treatments since LFTB’s introduction in school lunches, according to MSNBC, ammonium hydroxide is still a chemical found in fertilizers and household cleaners, and can release flammable vapors. When mixed with certain acids it can become ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade bombs. Even more disturbing is that the presence of LFTB in food products is not listed on nutritional labels, making it almost impossible for consumers to detect.

LFTB does have economical benefits, as it uses otherwise unusable parts of the cow. According to the Associated Press, one estimate suggests that it is used in about 50 percent of the country’s ground beef and burgers.

Some politicians, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, have toured Beef Products’ LFTB plant to promote the safety of the product and agree that the industry has been a victim of a “smear campaign,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. However, these political arguments are futile. According to the AP, Branstad has been given $150,000 over the past two years from individuals tied to Beef Products Inc.

Because consumers are now questioning LFTB’s nutritional content, manufacturer AFA Foods has experienced a drop in demand. McDonald’s, Wal-mart and other companies have decided to drop LFTB or give their customers a choice, and AFA Foods is now filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 

Ultimately, consumers are going to decide the fate of LFTB. As a nation that values free market principles, this is a solid example of the effects of supply and demand — a process that won’t be deterred by politicians touring manufacturing plants.

There are too many processed foods cherished in American food culture that pose potential health hazards. Education is a key element in exposing how our food is made and relying solely on government regulation is not enough to ensure full consumer consciousness.

Amanda Butler is a junior majoring in sociology and women’s studies.

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