NEW YORK, N.Y. – Cargill Inc. says it will start labeling beef products that contain “finely textured beef,” following last year’s public outcry over the use of “pink slime.”
The Minneapolis-based meat company says the new packages will appear before next year’s grilling season and is in response to consumer demand. It says packages will note when a product “Contains Finely Textured Beef.”
Finely textured beef is made by separating the bits of meat that are stuck on fatty trimmings. Beef Products Inc., based in South Dakota, makes a similar product using a slightly different process it calls lean finely textured beef. In both cases, the meat is treated to kill bacteria and the resulting product is mixed with ground beef.
The filler had been used for decades in the U.S. but started to gain negative attention after a New York Times article in 2009 detailed Beef Products’ process. A federal microbiologist referred to the ingredient as “pink slime” in the story.
Cargill, which supplies restaurants and packaged food companies, said its branded beef products sold in retail outlets such as supermarkets accounts for less than 10 per cent of its ground beef business.
The company also supplies supermarkets, which then package the meat themselves. In those cases, it would be up to the retailer to label whether the products contain finely textured beef. Cargill said it would encourage retailers to do so.
Federal regulators have said the ingredient meets standards for food safety and doesn’t have to be labeled as an ingredient. And estimates of its use have ranged as high as 70 per cent of ground beef products before last year’s controversy erupted.
Before the use of finely textured beef became a controversial issue, Cargill processed about 200 million pounds of the ingredient each year, said Michael Martin, a company spokesman. But volume sank by about 80 per cent after the public outcry, which prompted retailers to ask Cargill to provide meat without it.
Since then, however, Martin said volume is back up to about 50 per cent.
“Our research shows that consumers believe ground beef products containing Finely Textured Beef should be clearly labeled,” said John Keating, Cargill Beef president said in a statement regarding Tuesday’s announcement.
Beef Products, the other major producer of the ingredient, also said its sales dropped about 80 per cent after the controversy. Last year, the company announced it was closing three plants as a result of the sharp reduction in demand.