The Economic Impact Of Killing 'Pink Slime'

fromWOI

"Pink slime" has been all over the news recently. Now the fear over the so called slime is beginning to have economic effects. This week Beef Products Incorporated, or BPI, temporarily closed down a total of three meat processing plants in Kansas, Texas and Iowa. The social media backlash over the processed meat may end its use, which could mean a lot of lost jobs. So the governors of those states are doing damage control. On Thursday they toured the only BPI factory still open, in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Now, the latest in the pink slime saga. That's the derogatory term for a meat product made by processing leftover beef trimmings. The fear over the so-called slime is having economic effects. This week, Beef Products Incorporated or BPI temporarily closed down three meat processing plants in Kansas, Texas and Iowa. Now, the governors of those states are defending the controversial meat product. Yesterday, they toured the only BPI factory still opened in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Iowa Public Radio Sandhya Dirks has the story.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: It spread across social media like a virus. Once again, big agriculture was trying to stuff an unsavory, unsafe meat product down the throat of the American consumer. But BPI's co-founder, Regina Roth, says they are not big, bad agriculture.

REGINA ROTH: We are a family-owned business. We try to do the right thing for our company, for our customers, for our employees and for our community.

DIRKS: A lot of consumers don't see it that way. They see the processed meat. It's viscous and thin, like soft serve but beef. Many got their first look on ABC's "World News Tonight." ABC interviewed former United States Department of Agriculture employee Gerald Zirnstein, the man who coined the term pink slime.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT")

GERALD ZIRNSTEIN: It's economic fraud. It's not fresh ground beef. It's a substitute. It's a cheap substitute being added in.

DIRKS: But Kansas Governor Sam Brownback blames the name pink slime. He's got another catchphrase in mind.

GOVERNOR SAM BROWNBACK: And I hope the dude, it's beef, catches on...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROWNBACK: ...because that's what this is. Dude, it's beef.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROWNBACK: And it's good beef. My family raises cattle. We've lost 300 jobs in Kansas off of this.

DIRKS: Brownback says just because it's processed doesn't mean it's not meat. Iowa State University professor and former deputy under secretary for food safety at the USDA Scott Hurd says it's like any processed food. BPI takes what gets left behind on the chopping block.

DR. SCOTT HURD: So what they do then is warm those trimmings, and then there's kind of a centrifugal process that's like separating fat from skimmed milk. And so the fatty tissue goes one direction, the lean tissue goes the other direction.

DIRKS: Then they add ammonia, and that has freaked out a lot of consumers. The USDA says that it's actually a pretty foolproof way to kill bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella. But many consumers can't stomach the idea of eating leftover meat that's been treated with a solvent even if they've been doing so for 20 years. Facebook and Twitter campaigns have put pressure on grocery chains and school boards, and it's worked. BPI orders have slowed to a crawl. That frustrates Texas Governor Rick Perry.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: I have to go back to Texas and explain to people in Amarillo why they may not have a job. And I'm telling you I don't know the answer to that. Has there been one individual in this country that has been poisoned or has been sick or has died from a product that came out of this company?

DIRKS: The USDA says there hasn't. But even if the public remains squeamish about the product, people are still going to eat hamburgers, and the extra meat once provided by BPI is going to have to come from somewhere, namely 1.5 million additional head of cattle. So to save jobs and redeem BPI's products, the governors are staking their political capital and their stomachs. After the press conference, Iowa's governor, Terry Branstad, takes a bite of a BPI burger.

GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD: It's all right. It's good.

DIRKS: And Governor Branstad says it's nutritious. For NPR News, I'm Sandhya Dirks, South Sioux City, Nebraska.

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