'Pink slime' goes to court

Wednesday, 07 June, 2017

Back in 2012 the ABC in the US aired a report ‘Pink slime meat investigation — do you know what’s in your food?’. The program was all about the incorporation of Beef Products Inc’s ‘lean finely textured beef’ in around 70% of the minced beef available in US supermarkets.

Lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is produced by heating boneless beef trimmings to 42–43°C, centrifuging off the melted fat then flash freezing to −9°C in 90 seconds. As the source areas of the product may include the most contaminated portions, such as near the hide, the product is treated with ammonia gas or citric acid to reduce its bacterial load. Processors can gain 4.5 to 9 extra kilos of lean beef per cow using this process. LFTB is not permitted for use in Australia nor the European Union.

There was already some controversy about the incorporation of LFTB into minced beef and prior to the ABC program, with McDonald’s having already announced it would stop using the product after an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution TV show in 2011 also mentioned ‘pink slime’.

However, after the ABC program aired, where the term ‘pink slime’ was mentioned some 350 times, there was immediate consumer backlash.

Beef Products Inc (BPI), the largest manufacturer of LFTB, claims it had to close three processing plants and reduce its staff by 700. BPI is now suing the ABC for US$1.9 billion in damages. Being based in the highly agricultural South Dakota, the damages could be tripled if it is found that the TV network violated South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Product Disparagement Act.

With potential damages up at US$5.7 billion before any punitive fines are added, The Walt Disney Company, parent of the ABC, is worried about its bottom line should it be found against, and has included this lawsuit in 10-Q reports to shareholders filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission.

The court case is expected to last eight weeks and will be fascinating.

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