Remember all the buzz last year around “Lean Finely Textured Beef” (LFTB) aka “Pink Slime”?
Last August, I wrote about how the fallout from unfair and erroneous media reporting affected employment and ground beef prices in “1 of 10 Things (at the very least) the Food Industry Does Want You to Know“.
The product was perfectly safe, and USDA approved, but much of the ado was over the fact that consumers were unaware of the process large manufacturers used to produce ground beef. That uproar took most of the product off the market.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Here, we are a little more than a year later, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the price of ground beef is 17% higher on average than last year. Compare that to the CPI for all food, which grew only 1.4% over last year.
Consumer demand for lower prices is now bringing back finely textured beef. This time, however, it will be marked as such on the label – kind of.
Cargill, one of the world’s largest beef companies, just announced it will note the use of finely textured beef in its U.S. ground beef product labels, when applicable.
In reality, the product never actually went away. The USDA does not require specific labeling for finely textured beef because the product is 100% beef.
Following the Label Trail
Cargill has continued to produce finely textured beef for inclusion in its ground beef products and has been doing so since the 1990’s. However, in response to consumer demand for transparency, Cargill will begin to put “contains finely textured beef” on bulk boxes of its ground beef sold to grocery stores for repackaging.
Cargill’s labeling disclosure of finely textured beef is voluntary. A grocery store or foodservice purveyor can purchase Cargill’s bulk ground beef containing lean finely textured beef for a lower price than ground beef without it. They can repackage either product under their own in-house brand and sell them as ground beef or burgers. The possibility exists then that you the consumer may not know which beef you’re buying.
Next Question: Should You Care?
Ground beef made with lean finely textured beef is perfectly safe and is technically 100% ground beef. LFTB is made from the chunks, bits and pieces of beef that remain on the unused parts and fat of the animals, harvested through a scientific separation process. It is the scraps, but still 100% beef and quite inexpensive.
Lean finely textured beef serves to fill certain demand in the market for low cost ground beef and as a low cost food ingredient. It also relieves the pressure on ground beef pricing by increasing the available supply to meet that demand.
Food labels are ever evolving. There is current debate whether or not to label genetically modified foods, “GMO”s, and demand to tighten up the loose definition of “Natural” on labels. Chefs, restaurateurs and consumers want and deserve to know what’s in their food.
The disclosure of the use of lean finely textured beef as an ingredient is currently voluntary for ground beef and burgers. Thus, buyers can use price as a key indicator for the ingredients and quality of what they’re buying. If the price is cheap relative to similar other choices, the type of ground beef being merchandised, may be suspect as such.