Call it what you want; it still answers to the name ‘pink slime’

Posted by
November 7, 2013

Photo: Cargill Finely Textured Beef product

Remember “pink slime” — that appetizing meat product consisting of mechanically separated beef scraps that needs disinfection with a chemical agent to kill dangerous pathogens?

While our food supply is filled with other equally nauseating offerings (mechanically separated poultry, for one), last year it was slime’s turn to capture everyone’s rapt and revolted attention. Then, like the fickle consumers we are, interest in “boneless lean beef trimmings,” as it’s more politely referred to by industry, became as ‘yesterday’ as old Facebook status postings.

All of which makes it even more curious that the giant food processing company Cargill would make a proud announcement this week that it will be indicating the presence of its own version on package labels with the even more consumer-friendly name,“finely textured beef.”

From the looks of how the media handled it, however, Cargill seems to have inadvertently reignited pink slime’s notoriety.  Reports from Reuters to The Wall Street Journal to ABC and NBC all included big “pink slime” mentions, now attaching the Cargill name to the product, something the company managed to avoid for the most part the first time around.

Now for Beef Products Inc., the original target of intense media coverage over its version of the product, called “boneless lean beef trimmings,” the outcome of all that attention wasn’t so good – especially in regard to the ammonium hydroxide with which it was treated to kill contaminants such as E. coli.

That firm’s pink slime sales subsequently went into a steep decline, closing three of its plants last year due to the fallout. Cargill also saw a drop in slime sales of 80 percent, according to Reuters. But at last,  “that business is slowly recovering” – or so they claim.

Enter the marketing genius

Somewhere along the way, however, Cargill decided some “consumer research” might be in order, as in surveying more than 3,000 consumers “about ground beef and how it’s made.”

Here’s how I visualize it: some Really Bright Guy in the marketing department says, “Hey I’ve got a great idea! Let’s talk to 3,000 consumers and ask if they want pink slime, I mean finely textured beef, labeled on packages. Then we can issue a press release and get interviewed about it!”

Well, Really Bright Guy was right on the money. The media has been only to happy to accommodate by bringing Pink Slime out of retirement and putting it back in the spotlight.

In a prepared statement about the big news, Cargill Beef President John Keating is quoted as saying, “We’ve listened to the public, as well as our customers, and that is why today we are declaring our commitment to labeling finely textured beef.”

And here’s what that “commitment” will come down to:

According to Reuters, Cargill’s wholesale packaging will state “contains Finely Textured Beef,” on the box side. Whether the repackaged version for consumer sale (what you would find in the meat case) will be labeled is currently up to the individual retailer, however. But some time next summer, Cargill says, it will also add that statement to its meat packages that are sold directly to consumers.

But no matter what name it goes under, pink slime just seems to be the gift that keeps on giving red meat to the media.