Surveys showed consumers wanted more transparency toward the hamburger product called “pink slime” by its critics.
This Thursday, March 15, 2012 photo shows ground beef containing what is derisively referred to as "pink slime," or what the meat industry calls "lean, finely textured beef," right, and pure 85% lean ground beef, in Concord, N.H. Under a change announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, districts that get food through the government's school lunch program will be allowed to say no to ground beef containing the ammonia-treated filler and choose filler-free meat instead. The low-cost filler is made from fatty meat scraps that are heated to remove most of the fat, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) ORG XMIT: MIN2013110519422261
Cargill Inc. will begin labeling ground beef containing so-called “finely textured beef,” a filler associated with the “pink slime” flap that hit the hamburger market last year.
The agribusiness giant said Tuesday that it opted for labeling after its consumer surveys showed a demand for more transparency. “Finely textured beef” labels will be stamped on Cargill-branded ground beef sold directly to consumers — beginning next year — in tubes known as chubs.
Still, only a small percentage of Cargill’s overall U.S. ground beef production is sold directly to consumers under its own brand. Minnetonka-based Cargill is a provider to supermarket chains, food service companies and other intermediaries that in turn sell to consumers.
Much of Cargill’s ground beef sold to grocery companies is repackaged for store shelves. Boxes of Cargill ground beef sold to retailers will also carry labels about finely textured beef. But retailers usually know that anyway, and store-shelf labeling is in their hands. “We will encourage them to label,” Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said.
At least one food company, Iowa-based supermarket chain Hy-Vee, has labeled hamburger that includes lean finely textured beef since last year.
The pink slime furor erupted in early 2012 after a wave of bad publicity for finely textured beef, an industry name for lean beef filler added to hamburger.
It’s a low-cost, 100 percent beef product made from tissue that would otherwise be scrapped or made into pet food.
While the product has long been regarded as safe, a certain “ick” factor evolved around it, giving it the sobriquet “pink slime.”
The term was particularly associated with finely textured beef made by Beef Products Inc. (BPI), a South Dakota-based company that uses ammonia to kill pathogens in the product.
Cargill, the other big U.S. finely textured beef maker, uses citric acid to kill pathogens. But supermarkets pulled back on all hamburger that included finely textured beef.
In turn, BPI closed three of its four plants. Cargill saw demand for finely textured beef abruptly drop 80 percent.
Demand is now about 50 percent of what it was before the 2012 controversy, Martin said.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003