We predicted that the unscientific, hysterical calls to remove finely textured beef–tarred as “pink slime” in the media—would result in higher hamburger prices and no benefits to food safety or sustainability. The early results of the scare, as reported by Reuters today, back us up.
Without lean finely textured beef, or LFTB, the price of manually recovered lean beef trimmings have skyrocketed while the price of fatty trimmings (the raw ingredients for LFTB) have plummeted. As a result of the scare, 650 American workers have been laid off and US beef imports from Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay have skyrocketed.
So what are Americans seeing at the supermarket? Retail ground beef prices hit a record high in March. Taking the equivalent of 1.5 million head of cattle out of the food supply won’t help ease that strain. (Not using LFTB wastes the equivalent of 1.5 million cows’ worth of beef over the course of a year.)
It’s also a divine irony that one of the prophets of the local-food movement, Mark Bittman, helped fuel the “pink slime” scare. Now, instead of consuming more meat from each U.S.-raised animal, Americans will get more of their ground beef from the Southern Hemisphere. When elitist food myths face off, it’s survival of the smuggest.
Food snobs may think that LFTB was the “lowest common denominator” (to quote Marion Nestle), but the evidence suggests that mindlessly bashing food processors isn’t helpful. Americans want their ground beef and buy it in spite of the scare. Unfortunately, they’ll have to pay more for it — while hundreds of other Americans have already lost their jobs.