is pink slime a moral panic?

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a story about defenders of so-called “pink slime,” the mixture of beef scraps disinfected with ammonia that has been the subject of major derision since Jamie Oliver “exposed” it on his show. Important elements of the story:

  • “lean finely-textured beef” (the technical identifier) has been used for a long time
  • the stuff is much less fatty than regular ground beef
  • it’s actually beef, not a filler, starch, etc., as some other meat extenders are.

So, is pink slime getting a bad rap just because of the name it’s been given? Is anybody really surprised that industrial food producers use every scrap of meat they can? Is anybody upset that higher-risk bits of meat are disinfected before entering the food supply? What unintended consequences will result from the moral panic surrounding the stuff?

I take for granted here that we are talking about an industrial food supply, and we can have a separate discussion about the virtues of organic, free range, etc., meat. But should consumers of industrial meat be surprised or upset at the presence and use of this product?

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

8 thoughts on “is pink slime a moral panic?”

  1. Interested readers might head to The Daily Show webpage and check out the 28 March broadcast to see John Stewart’s take on the moral/health panic.

    Like

  2. I am somewhat surprised about the backlash except for the truly sublime image provided by pink slime. Beyond the economics that allow food processing companies to squeeze more profit, processing this meat also saves more animals from being slaughtered. This means both that we do not waste pieces of a formerly living being and that we use fewer environmental resources raising a new animal to supply a relatively inelastic demand for meat.

    At the same time, it is disgusting.

    Like

  3. May or may not be a moral panic, but yes, I think many consumers of industrial meat are quite shocked about this product. Many people know very little about the food system in this country. The pink slime label and the pictures have gotten the situation much more media play than is typical for industrial food, and so I think a lot of people are confronting the realities of what they eat for the first time. I mean, this is a society in which some people who eat hamburgers are troubled if they have to confront the fact that hamburgers are even made of dead cows in the first place…

    Like

  4. Mikaila is right that many people know very little about the food system in the US. Stories about fillers and additives such as pink slime force people to think about what they are eating. The exposure of pink slime (and other food industry techniques, such as using carbon monoxide in meat packaging to help the meat retain a fresh, pink color)is like peeking behind the curtain. Dorothy taught us that we should pay no attention to the man behind the curtain- he’ll only disappoint you.

    As for Andrew’s original questions:

    Is anybody really surprised that industrial food producers use every scrap of meat they can?

    They shouldn’t be, but they are because not many people are aware of what exactly industrial food production is like, or perhaps they prefer not to think about it.

    Is anybody upset that higher-risk bits of meat are disinfected before entering the food supply?

    Logically we should all be glad that high risk food is disinfected, but I think the problem is the fact that someone might include a ‘high risk’ food in the first place- especially one that had previously been reserved only for dog food. Additionally, that disinfection process doesn’t always work- which is problematic when we consider that at one time it was deemed so effective that products treated with this system were then exempted from regular e-coli and salmonella testing. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?pagewanted=all)

    What unintended consequences will result from the moral panic surrounding the stuff?

    Should most retailers stop using pink slime it will mean raising more cattle to meet demands for ground beef, which brings with it economic and environmental consequences. More cattle means more crowded CAFOs, and more waste (both from the animal while it is alive, and its remains after processing). I would also expect that if some retailers continue to use the product that we’ll see a trend where those who can afford to (and are informed about the presence of ‘pink slime’) will avoid purchasing meat with it, while those who do not have the financial means to pay the premium for ‘unadulterated’ meat will purchase the cheaper, slime-filled meat.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s