A judge in Iowa City has blocked the Iowa State University from releasing research on the safety of lean finely textured beef—a.k.a. pink slime.
According to a report today from the Associated Press, “District Judge Dale Ruigh ruled last month that releasing the information would cause ‘irreparable harm’ to Sioux Falls, SD-based Beef Products, Inc., by revealing information about proprietary food-processing techniques.”
Pink slime, you’ll recall, is that postmodern beef invention made by treating scraps of fat and meat with ammonia hydroxide, liquefying them, and spinning off the fat in a centrifuge. The Silly Putty-colored result, commonly used in hamburgers and other foods made from ground beef, became the Internet’s bête noir after a photo of it piling up like pale-pink soft serve went viral las year. In addition to triggering our collective gag reflex, safety concerns arose over the use of ammonia.
And that’s where James Dickson comes into the picture. Aside from to his academic work as a professor in the Department of Animal Science at ISU, a Big Ag school in a Big Ag state, Dickson was also employed as a consultant for Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) back in 2002. While the exact contents of his research, it’s clear that he hasn’t pulled a Bradley Manning on the beef processer—he’s gone on record, repeatedly, saying that the “puff’ of ammonia hydroxide used in the production of lean finely textured beef is perfectly safe.
“When people come up with these other terms, like ‘pink slime,’ it is not accurate,” Dickson writes in a post called “The Truth About ‘Pink Slime’” on the website BestFoodFacts.org (which is funded by the likes of ConAgra). “Some stories have said this meat is unfit for human consumption, but that is not accurate, either. It is meat that has come from USDA-inspected operations. It is not sludge. It is meat that without being processed would go to waste. Yes, lean finely textured beef is produced at a lower cost. But the bottom line is that it is beef.”
If the food-safety content of the research isn’t the question at hand, as Dickson’s conflict of interest and other writing makes clear, then what to make of the judges argument about “proprietary food processing techniques”? The gist of the process has been reported numerous times by numerous outlets. Here’s how a 2012 Bloomberg Business Week story describes how pink slime is made: “by warming ground-up scraps to about 100F—the approximate body temperature of a steer—and spinning them in industrial centrifuges at thousands of revolutions per minute.” The meat left after the fat is spun off? That’s pink slime.
So there’s no safety concern, according to Dickson, and the process is simple enough to grasp with a high-school-level understanding of physics. All of which leaves you wondering why the research of pink-slime-advocating professor from a public university that’s pumped full of Big Ag dollars (ISU kids can get information about study abroad programs and career services at the Monsanto Student Services Wing of the ag college building) is being blocked by a judge in a Big Ag-loving state.