LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Sales of a treated ground beef product
that critics derisively dubbed “pink slime” have rebounded, according to two of
Spokesmen for Cargill and Beef Products Inc. confirmed that
sales of the product, which the industry refers to as “lean, finely textured
beef,” have risen.
But Cargill told the Lincoln Journal Star that sales haven’t
rebounded to the level they were before a 2012 controversy about the meat.
The product, which is added as a low-cost ingredient to
ground beef, is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits
are heated to about 100 degrees and spun to remove most of the fat.
The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in
ground meat. The product also is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas or citric
acid to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
The phrase “pink slime,” coined by a federal microbiologist,
has appeared in the media at least since a critical 2009 New York Times report.
BPI sued ABC News and others in September 2012, alleging the
network’s reporting about the product earlier that year damaged BPI by
misleading consumers into believing it was unhealthy and unsafe. BPI said the
sales drop forced it to close plants in Waterloo, Iowa; Garden City, Kansas; and
Amarillo, Texas; laying off more than 700 workers. Only a Nebraska plant in
South Sioux City remained open.
Attorneys for ABC have said the network in each of its
broadcasts stated the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the product safe to
They argued that although the term “pink slime” may come
across as unappetizing, it is not incorrect. Lean, finely textured beef is both
pink and, like all ground beef, has a slimy texture, they argued.
The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled last month that BPI’s
lawsuit against ABC News can go to trial. Union County Judge Cheryle Gering
already has ruled that ABC isn’t protected against liability by saying that the
product is beef and is safe.
Jeremy Jacobsen, a spokesman for Dakota Dunes, South
Dakota-based BPI, said he could “confirm we are seeing an increase in sales.”
But he would not comment further, saying the company’s attorneys have advised
BPI not to discuss the issue in any detail because of its $1.2 billion lawsuit
against ABC News.
Cargill also lost sales and shut down a plant in Plainview,
Texas, that employed more than 2,000 people. Cargill spokesman Mike Martin told
the Journal Star that his
company now sells the product to about 400 customers, which is more than before
March 2012, but the sales volume remains down about 40 percent.
Since Jan. 20, Cargill has said, all of Cargill’s
U.S.-produced, fresh, 100 percent ground beef products that contain the finely
textured beef will say so on a label, whether sold in bulk or in chubs directly
Cargill also has developed a website to answer questions
about the product. It said, for example, that Cargill makes ground beef that
ranges from 73 percent lean to 96 percent lean. Cargill said the finely textured
beef is mixed in to help reach the right percentage for each product.