Politico Back to Sliming Lean Finely Textured Beef

Summer is almost over, but Politico is still ready to throw lean, finely-textured beef back on the fire to cook some more, following ABC’s 2012 roasting of the product and the company that makes it.

The Sept. 9 Politico story referred to the beef as “controversial” twice, “scraps” twice, and “the product” six times. It even referred to it as “remnant scraps of cattle carcasses.”

The description that Politico gave for lean finely-textured beef was repulsive – and completely misleading. “[L]ean finely textured beef is made from the remnant scraps of cattle carcasses that were once deemed too fatty to go into human food. The scraps are heated and centrifuged to reclaim bits of muscle and then the product is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli before being mixed into ground beef.”

E. coli! Carcasses! Those words sound scary until you think them through. Any beef is “muscle off a cattle carcass” by definition, and the ammonium treatment, which is standard for the beef industry, is merely a precaution to prevent any disease carrying bacteria that may happen to be on the beef.

And as for the too fatty for “human food” part, lean finely textured beef, is made up of beef that is just harder to get at, so the meat isn’t lost. It’s treated to get rid of the fat and included with the rest of the ground beef. The USDA declares it healthy, and it is less expensive. The tiny amounts of ammonium hydroxide the beef is treated with make it safer to eat, but the media have made it sound like this is bad. This is beyond simple irresponsibility.

Like ABC had previously, Politico quoted Bettina Siegel, promoting her as a “Houston mom.” They said nothing about her being a Huffington Post contributor.

Lean finely textured beef was the target of several ABC news reports in 2012 that branded it with the negative label “pink slime.” Recently the meat has made a return to school lunches in some states. Although USDA approved, the beef was pulled from grocery stores and school lunch menus nationwide after an ABC hit job by reporter Jim Avila.

Avila went into supermarkets with a camera crew and asked whether or not they advertised how much “pink slime” was in their beef. Understandably, this caused many supermarkets to pull the beef from their shelves, and replacing it with more expensive, and fattier, beef without LFTB in it.

The derogatory term “pink slime”was coined by a disgruntled former USDA employee, and was quickly picked up and promoted by ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer.” When it led to the loss of over 600 jobs, Beef Products Inc., the company most hurt by the attack, filed a lawsuit against ABC News for $1.2 billion in damages.

During its campaign against the beef, ABC used the term “pink slime” 52 times in just a two-week span and those reports had an impact. Few companies can survive an extensive media assault – even when it’s on a safe and legal product we’ve all been eating for two decades. In this case, ABC’s reporting resulting in lost jobs and revenue. American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle put the blame directly on ABC’s biased coverage: “Congratulations, ‘ABC World News.’ Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast.”

ABC was unapologetic about its role in the possible loss of 600 jobs, saying Beef Products, Inc. "came out swinging" and would try a public relations push "to restore confidence in its product." While Avila did admit that the company blamed "social media and news organizations specifically ABC News," ABC conveniently only referred to the beef as "pink slime" twice in the March 26, 2012 “World News with Diane Sawyer.” That's eight times less than their last report.

Despite the huge losses in jobs and revenue, and having to close down several plants, lefty activists slammed BPI’s lawsuit as “bitter.”

“Pink slime” did come up in Politico’s recent article in a quote by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who quipped that “As a parent, I wouldn't want pink slime in my kid's school lunches, but ultimately that decision is up to the parents and school systems. 

Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella is a staff writer for the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute.