- - Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Who could be in favor of eating “pink slime” or “bug juice”? Those are the clever hooks adopted by activist food snobs who raised ill-conceived firestorms about lean beef trimmings and cochineal red food dye.

Now that America has had a moment to recover from the sensationalism, it’s time to take a more sober look at the facts behind these slime campaigns. Contrary to the overhyped reports, lean beef trimmings make meals healthier, safer, cost-efficient and less animal-intensive. Cochineal food dyes, while derived from bugs, are actually all-natural replacements for artificial colors.

Right off the bat, the emphasis was on beef trimmings’ “yuck factor,” spurred along by a chorus of food snobs like cookbook author and columnist Mark Bittman, who urged the government on Twitter to outlaw lean beef trimmings on school lunch trays. Other activists who want meat off your plate, cream out of your coffee and leather off of your feet hyped up a campaign to get the all-natural dye out of Starbucks coffee drinks. Playing on fashionable prejudices against “processed food,” these people hoped to turn the “yuck factor” into an irrational boycott.

Because trimmings gross out gourmands and bug-derived dyes offend vegans, they feel themselves entitled to take the products away from consumers and even shutter the businesses that provide them.

But in slamming modern methods of food processing, these pundits can ironically contradict their philosophy’s own principles: making food safer, healthier and less animal-intensive.

Beef trimmings are just that: the trimmings left on the bone after primary cuts of beef are butchered. As any butcher will tell you, people have used and eaten trimmings in sausages and hamburger for centuries. Thanks to contemporary innovations, processors now have ways to remove the fat. That’s right: Some of the same food activists who paint Americans as fatty food addicts have turned around and decried a process that makes the oft-maligned hamburger leaner.

What about the safe, germ-killing treatment with ammonium hydroxide that also has come under criticism? The anti-germ process is actually widely used, in foods ranging from cheese to baked goods to chocolate candies.

Where’s the outrage? Nowhere - because ammonium hydroxide is used as an anti-bacterial agent that actually makes our food supply safer.

When it comes to lean beef trimmings, foodies are schizophrenic. On one hand, they generally lament that American farmers raise too many animals for food. Yet the same industries they tar are constantly researching and developing new ways to get more food out of the animals we eat.

By efficiently using more meat from each cow, lean beef trimmings sustainably reduce our environmental impact and our slaughter rates. Ridding trimmings from school lunches alone means food pundits are signing a death warrant for 10,000 cows, the number needed to replace the meat that otherwise might be thrown out. Eliminate trimmings on a nationwide basis, and one estimate says we’ll need to slaughter an additional 1.5 million cows a year.

Food snobs who make a living complaining about modern food processing are thrilled by the speed at which the attack on beef trimmings has gone viral on the Internet. Unfortunately, propaganda that passes for information moves so fast today that experts are handicapped getting the truth out. Meanwhile, rash decisions already have been made. Major supermarket chains, fearing a swift and ignorant reprisal, have announced that they will stop using lean beef trimmings.

It’s often said that a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on. The distance traveled by bad information goes much farther and faster today.

J. Justin Wilson is senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.

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