NEW YORK (AP) — Cargill Inc. said it will start labeling
beef products that contain finely textured beef after the ingredient came under
attack as “pink slime” last year.
The Minneapolis-based meat company said the new packages
will appear before next year’s grilling season and is in response to consumer
demand. It said packages will note when a product “Contains Finely Textured
Finely textured beef is made by separating the bits of meat
that are stuck on fatty trimmings. Those bits are treated to kill bacteria; the
resulting product is mixed with ground beef.
The filler had been used for decades in the U.S., but
started to gain negative attention after a New York Times article in 2009, in which
a federal microbiologist referred to it as “pink slime.”
Cargill, which supplies restaurants and packaged food
companies, said its branded beef products sold in retail outlets such as
supermarkets accounts for less than 10 percent of its ground beef business.
The company also supplies meat to supermarkets, which then
package the meat themselves. In those cases, it would be up to the retailer to
label whether the products contain finely textured beef. Cargill said it would
encourage retailers to do so.
Federal regulators have said the ingredient meets standards
for food safety and doesn’t have to be labeled as an ingredient. And estimates
of its use have ranged as high as 70 percent of ground beef products before last
year’s controversy erupted.
Before the use of finely textured beef became a
controversial issue, Cargill processed about 200 million pounds of the
ingredient each year, said Michael Martin, a company spokesman. But volume sank
by about 80 percent after the public outcry, which prompted retailers to ask
Cargill to provide meat without it.
Since then, however, Martin said volume is back up to about
“Our research shows that consumers believe ground beef
products containing Finely Textured Beef should be clearly labeled,” John
Keating, Cargill Beef president, said in a statement regarding the recent
Beef Products Inc., the other major producer of the
ingredient, also said its sales were hit by about 80 percent after the
controversy. Beef Products, based in South Dakota, produces a higher volume of
the ingredient, which it calls lean finely textured beef.
The company announced last year that it was closing three
plants as a result of the sharp reduction in demand.
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