It seems to me that my mom was a very wise woman – wise in the ways of the world. She always had some kind of assessment about situations – one that proved to be both appropriate and accurate. That thought came to me recently as one of her observations kinda bubbled up from my memory box; There were times when I was just a lad that someone did or said something abusive, mean or just plain nasty and when I talked with mom about it, her reply was something like, “Bill, people like that will always get their comeuppance. Maybe it won’t be right away, but it’ll happen.” Keep that thought in mind – I’ll get back to it.
Ground beef, which we usually refer to as “hamburger”, is undoubtedly one of the major staples of American foodstuffs. It’s made by grinding a combination of meat with fat with the result being a mixture of the two with ratios of meat to fat such as 70/30 or 82/18 with the most common labeling simply being 72 or 82 indicating the percentage of meat. Regardless of the particular variety, we consume millions of pounds of ground beef each year.
In March 2012, an ABC News series revealed that about 70 per cent of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contained an additive known as “lean finely textured beef” or LFTB . In the production of LFTB, heat and centrifuges remove fat from the meat in beef trimmings and the resulting product is exposed to ammonia gas or citric acid to kill bacteria. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the product in 2001 for limited human consumption, so LFTB may be used in ground beef and some other meat products such as beef-based processed meats.
Since LFTB is about 94-97 percent lean beef, when it is added to ground beef, the ratio of fat to meat is reduced which means additional fat may be added to the ground beef mixture while maintaining the appropriate ratio of meat to fat.
Okay, so what? Well, ABC News, when referring to this all-beef additive, LFTB, used the term “pink slime”. This label is attributed to a reportedly disgruntled worker at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) who used the term in an internal FSIS email because of the product’s “distinctive look .”
Well, as you can imagine, the idea that we were eating “slime” in our burgers made us go absolutely ballistic. In reaction, a number of U.S. food manufacturers immediately claimed they either didn’t use the product or would cease using it. On March 25, 2012, LFTB manufacturer Beef Products Inc (BPI) announced it would suspend operations at three of its four plants – which produced hundreds of thousands of pounds of the product each day. By March 2013, the percentage of ground beef containing this lean finely textured beef product had dropped from about 70 percent the previous year to about 5 percent.
As was to be expected, in September 2012 BPI filed a case in a South Dakota state court against ABC News claiming the news coverage caused $1.9 billion damage to the business. ABC News moved the case to a federal court, but the feds sent it back to the state court. Well, the latest twist to this story is that a judge in South Dakota has now cleared the way for the case to be tried in Union County, South Dakota, home of Beef Products Inc.
News reports indicate the judge was of the opinion a jury might reasonably find ABC News was “reckless” and engaged in “purposeful avoidance of the truth.” By the way, South Dakota food- libel law allows triple damages against those who knowing lie about food product safety so ABC News may be liable for close to $6 billion. That’s a lot of hamburger.
Okay, back to “comeuppance”. Do you figure ABC News will get its comeuppance for creating an alarming story where there actually was none but which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars damage to a legitimate business producing a legal product and the loss of hundreds of jobs? Was this yet another example of “fake” news designed to increase ratings by biased reporting?
On the other hand will BPI get its comeuppance for foisting “pink slime” on the unsuspecting public as ABC News is vindicated for having merely reported the truth about LFTB and therefore was in no way responsible for damages to BPI? Was ABC News simply exercising freedom of the press in letting people know what’s in their ground beef?
Well, one thing for sure, this case will likely drag on through the courts for years and I probably won’t still be around by the final decision – but I sure would like to see mom right again. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]