Beef Products Inc., makers of the highly processed (and now notorious) beef product dubbed “pink slime” by the media, has slapped ABC News with a whopping $1.2 billion lawsuit for making what the company claims were “false,” “misleading,” and “defamatory” statements in a month-long series of news reports about the stuff last spring.
As a BPI attorney told the Associated Press, ABC News “caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all—that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat.”
For its part, ABC News says the suit is “without merit,” and it plans to contest BPI’s charges “vigorously.”
No doubt, both companies now find themselves at the weird nexus between Americans’ conflicting desires for cheap (i.e., industrially processed) food on the one hand, and a fuzzy, feel-good notion of wholesomeness on the other.
As horror stories of kids in school cafeterias across the country consuming pink-slime-packed ground beef burned across the web, BPI tried in vain to counter with its own public information campaign. (First order of business: replace the epithetic “pink slime” with “lean finely textured beef” or “LFTB” —because when you’ve got a food-related PR crisis on your hands, nothing reassures the public like a dense corporate-sounding acronym.)
Ultimately, though, BPI claims it lost 80 percent of its business in less than a month, forcing it to shutter three of its four U.S. plants and lay off more than 650 workers.
But does pink slime—er, LFTB—deserve a second glance? To be sure, one look is enough for most people. The process essentially involves a medley of industrial-scale techniques (heat, centrifuges, and other “specialized machinery,” according to BPI) to remove just about every last bit of meat from the carcass. Because ground meat is particularly susceptible to contamination, LFTB is then treated with what the company describes as a “tiny amount” of ammonia to kill pathogens like E. coli and salmonella.
It was the image of kids scarfing down what looks like the equivalent of ammonia-laced Silly Putty that created an uproar. But as TakePart’s own Jane Lear pointed out a couple months ago, the production of LFTB is “an example of ‘waste not, want not,’ taken to the nth degree; depending on the size of the steer, an additional 13 to 30 pounds of meat are retrieved in the process. Some would call this corporate greed; others, corporate thrift.”
As far as that bugaboo ammonia is concerned, BPI takes pains to point out that ammonia is naturally occurring, and that it’s used in the production of all sorts of food products, ranging from baked goods and cheeses to chocolates and puddings. In fact, the company released a handy graphic that breaks down the amount of ammonia found in the various components of your average bacon double cheeseburger. Surprise! It’s the bun and the condiments that contain the most, not the beef (even the cheese clocks in at more).
Phew. Still, all that spin can make you feel like you’ve been though one of BPI’s centrifuges.