Pink Slime Is Back

Remember the great "pink slime" panic of 2012? Well, it's back—both pink slime and the ridiculous panic surrounding it.

Finely textured beef (or "pink slime") is essentially just beef that's been processed from the cuts of meat that Americans find less desirable, and then treated to kill any possible bacteria present. The technology for making it dates back to the 1960s.

Pink slime production fell sharply after the media-driven hysteria of 2012, but now it's making a comeback. And it's all thanks to something even scarier than media hype: higher food prices.

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Prolonged drought in the southern Great Plains has shrunk U.S. cattle supplies to historic lows. The retail price of ground beef soared 27% in the two years through April to a record $3.808 a pound, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The "pink slime" beef was never deemed unsafe for consumption by the FDA, but the media freak-out in 2012 (the original instigators of the panic wanted to call it "soylent pink") caused producers to close plants and slash jobs. But now those companies like Beef Products, Inc. and Cargill are again ramping up production to put pink slime back into products like hamburgers.

Everybody saw this coming. When you remove efficiencies in the production of beef and that's paired with an inevitable drought, you have to raise prices. Some health and eco-conscious consumers might even argue that this could be a good thing, if it leads to less meat consumption. But Americans like to have it both ways: We want inexpensive meat, but we want it made from only the choicest cuts.

Thus, this so-called "pink slime" has been slowly making its way back into the American beef supply (it never really left completely), albeit in smaller doses.

Again, from the Wall Street Journal:

Today, Cargill sells finely textured beef to about 400 retail, food-service and food-processing customers, more than before the 2012 controversy, though overall they now buy smaller amounts, company officials said.

If you've eaten a hamburger in the last 50 years, you've almost certainly consumed "pink slime." The production of meat is inherently inefficient when compared with most other vegetable products, and beef producers figured out long ago (again, this has been happening since the 1960s, and got really popular in the 1990s) that they needed to employ the latest technologies to make it cheaper. You're necessarily inserting perfectly good food into an intermediary (the steer) before it reaches the end consumer (the human).

Pink slime isn't even the "synthetic" meat we've been promised for generations. It's just beef, processed a little bit more than usual and mixed in with your regular hamburger meat. But as I've pointed out many times before, we already have a name for beef that hasn't been processed. It's called a cow.


Image: 2012 file photo of finely textured beef or "pink slime" via the Associated Press