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Grocers Get Slimed by Beef News

March 22, 2012

Lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) doesn't draw much attention, but call it "pink slime" and suddenly consumers are making "ick" sounds all over the place. The result is that major grocery chains have announced decisions to no longer include LFTB in their ground beef.

Delhaize, Safeway and Supervalu have all said the chains they operate will no longer purchase ground beef with LFTB even though the USDA maintains it is safe for human consumption. Walmart has said that it will offer consumers the option of purchasing ground beef with or without LFTB.

For those not familiar, LFTB is made from beef trimmings spun through a centrifuge and then treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. According to a Food Safety News opinion piece by microbiologist and author Phyllis Entis, "Ammonium hydroxide has been used as an antimicrobial agent in meat for more than 40 years."

A press release from the American Meat Institute states: "LFTB is nutritionally equivalent to lean ground beef. It is important to recognize that, while some reports have called LFTB an additive or a filler, these terms are absolutely inaccurate."

Critics, most notably celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, have argued LFTB is only fit for pet food and not human consumption. A campaign by Mr. Oliver led McDonald's to stop using LFTB last summer.


Discussion Questions:

Discussion Questions: What would you do if you operated a grocery chain selling ground beef with lean, finely textured beef? Are chains doing the right thing by not selling beef with LFTB?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Are grocers making the right or wrong decision by discontinuing the sale of meat with lean, finely textured beef?


I'd mark it on the package and sell it for much less than "pure" beef products.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

Even though I don't use LFTB, it is safe. The media, and PETA will do anything to make the meat business look bad, as they always have an agenda. For all intents and purposes, it is a no win situation, and the smoke on this will clear in a few weeks, as the media will attack some other big business for something they perceive as not politically correct practice.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

Publicity, the media, McDonald's decision last summer and the impacting semantics of "pink slime" have killed any appeal of lean, finely texture beef.

While the product in question may be nutritionally equivalent to lean ground beef it has been branded as the public's "enemy" and grocery chains would only lose by trying to defend it.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

What would we do without the genius of marketing? How stupid do we think consumers are? "Lean finely textured beef" is right up (or down) there with real estate's "step-saving kitchen."

But the most puzzling argument is "Ammonium hydroxide has been used as an antimicrobial agent in meat for more than 40 years." So, if it's been used for a long time it's good for you? We had lead in house paint for a lot more years than that -- does that qualify it as good? Dentists have been putting mercury right into your teeth since 1800. Need I go on? I swear if some producers were allowed to include finely textured cow manure with the ground beef they'd claim to provide "100% of the daily fiber you need."

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

Now that it is a public issue, retailers and restaurants have to make a public choice. To make no statement is keep open the possibility that your beef contains it. If retailers and restaurants believe this is an important issue to their consumers, they may stop using it. If there is a price difference consumers could be offered products with or without at different price points and let the consumers decide. This will work as long as the product is safe.

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Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

I'm not quite sure what Peta has to do with anything.

Pink slime meat is a bit like sausage. As long as you know what you're getting into (which means you might NOT know what the slime's made of, any more than you know what's in the sausage) then it's fine to sell it. When I was a kid, my parents only bought kosher frankfurters for just this reason ... they wanted to be sure that it was pure.

To not identify it is just wrong ... just like it's wrong to call pollack "crabmeat."

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say I have not eaten beef or poultry for my entire adult life (no, I do not belong to Peta). I also believe all food products should be labeled appropriately including country of origin, any "byproducts," any genetic modification, etc. The US is way behind the rest of the first world in this regard. It's all about thinking about stakeholders, not just shareholders.

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Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research

At this point there is really only one choice -- discontinue using it. I can't think of any marketing message that will make the with-or-without option work. The Jamie Oliver Gang have won. Time to find a different use for LFTB. (Note: could be a good time to merchandise home grinders.)

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Dan Raftery, President, Raftery Resource Network Inc.

Pink Slime? I'd walk away from it, assuming I ever stocked it in the first place. Tony points out that it's safe but he doesn't sell it. My guess is that's because it's ... well ... pink slime. And Ian is (as usual) spot on here. Just because a product has been available for sale for decades doesn't make it safe -- lead, DDT, asbestos and so on and so on ad infinitum.

Consumers aren't dumb -- or at least not that dumb. The Walmart answer is wrong. You don't say to the consumer, "Here's 'Product A' that's healthy. It sells for $4.99 a pound. Or, you can have 'Product B' -- it's almost the same as 'Product A" but it's only $3.99 a pound because, even though it looks like 'Product A' it's really made with meat by-products that would otherwise be tossed or fed to animals."

If, as a retailer, you think your customers deserve 'Product A' why even stock 'Product B'?

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Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

This may not be a popular opinion, but I think one of the reasons the processors of our beef create pink slime is because the trimmings would end up in the trash, or possibly incinerated. Nutritionally it is the equivalent of beef and has not been shown to cause any risk to our health. It may sound gross, but it uses byproducts from the cutting process and incorporates them into our food. Like most manufacturing processes, I don't want to know how they make it. Let's talk about bologna and sausage and what's in that. Or the pork, beef and chicken in our hotdogs.... There are probably worse things than LFTB out there.


In a time of increased attention to what we're all ingesting and what it's doing to/for us, this particular product doesn't make the cut. Anyone who saw Jamie Oliver's unforgettable segment about how this stuff is made is applauding moves to ban it from grocery stores.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

While most of the national chains announced that they will eliminate the ingredient, others point out that this may compromise food safety. As usual, the problem is with the news media in crafting a disgusting term for the additive and not fully explaining its benefits and health impact.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

Oh, the power of words. No one cared when it was LFTP, but now that it's "pink slime" - YUCK! If I were a grocer I would put a big sign up saying that prepared ground beef in my store contained no Pink Slime. You might also consider a sign stating that due to the elimination of pink slime that ground beef pricing is increasing 14 cents per pound and also advise consumers that any cut of beef, pork, turkey, chicken will be ground in the meat department for free but that notice must be given so that butchers can plan their time efficiently.

Ed Dennis, Sales, Dennis Enterprises

Oh please, let's not all jump on the "Blame the Media" bandwagon. The "LFTB" is a much more made-up, marketing term than is "pink slime." Most consumers that buy bologna know what it is. The same is not true of ground beef. So, consumers don't want ground beef that's made from countless numbers of cows ... only made safe for consumption by an ammonium additive. Considering all the food safety issues that have cropped up in the last few years, I'd call that smart shopping. It's time to give consumers what they want.

Tracey Croughwell, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Evofem

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