Sometime shortly after the turn of the Millennium an aspiring exec at Beef Products Inc. found a new use for the sinewy bloody effluvia and bits of fatty waste that beef processing left behind, which (as fat is a breeding ground for bacterial contamination and wouldn't pass inspection) had previously been reserved for pets. By liquifying it in huge spinning centrifuges and then drowning it in ammonia (to kill the E-Coli and other contaminants) the Company invented a 'boneless lean beef’ mash which Jamie Oliver recently immortalized as ‘Pink Slime’, which is then frozen into small squares and sold as an additive to minced beef at $3.09 per pound, a far higher price than afforded to dog food.
The Company’s contention, that ammonia "is naturally present in all proteins… essential for life" and therefore safe, is disingenuous. In fact, ammonia is highly irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract and causes swelling and narrowing of the throat and bronchi, often triggering pulmonary edema and leading to airway obstruction. Prolonged skin contact (a few minutes) with ammonia causes burns - nice!
Beef Products marketed its "shit from Shinola" aggressively, abetted by the FDA and USDA who inexplicably exempted the production of Pink Slime from regular inspection (perhaps considering it a non-food product). In fact Pink Slime became so ubiquitous that it was (until recently) in 70% of all hamburgers sold in the US, including those sold at McDonalds, Burger King, and served in the vast majority of school lunches.
Last Monday, in response to public outrage, the Company announced that it would suspend slime manufacture at 3 of its 4 plants, reducing production by 900,000 pounds a day. By the end of last week the Company was on the counter attack, aided by 3 stooges - Governors “Thick” Perry of Texas, Sam “Throwback” of Kansas, and Terry “Brain-dead” of Iowa, who toured its South Sioux City, Nebraska plant on a “fact finding” tour and commented:
"They've [the poor buggers] been a victim of a smear campaign, and I think we need to do all we can to try to counter this.”
Thankfully this brazenly self-serving display of solidarity is too little too late, as McDonalds, the world biggest user of Pink Slime, has already moved on, having issued this deliciously self-serving statement:
“At McDonalds, the quality and safety of the food we serve our customers is a top priority. At the beginning of 2011, we made a decision to discontinue the use of ammonia-treated beef in our hamburgers. This product has been out of our supply chain since August of last year. This decision was a result of our efforts to align our global standards for how we source beef around the world.”
Actually food cost is McDonalds highest priority, and it was to reduce these costs that it sold burgers containing a product that is not fit for human consumption - one that is banned in Canada, the UK, and most of the rest of the civilized world.
McDonalds uses about a billion pounds of beef a year and slime-less ground costs 3-25 cents more per pound (depending on who is doing the math and the power of the purchaser). Guesstimating the additional cost of slime-less ground to McDonalds at 10 cents per pound, the decision to nix it will cost the company $100 million in the unlikely event it can’t find a way to pass the cost onto its customers (7.5 cents additional for a Quarter Pounder given a 33% food cost).
So yet again the question bounces back to us - is fast food to be relatively inexpensive because it is produced efficiently, or cheap because it is made of inferior ingredients? And given that we have been reminded (again) of just how low big food is prepared to go to produce cheap food, how much are we prepared to pay and do to de-junk it?