It should be easy: English for the eater


Ranchers have a well-earned reputation for speaking plain English plainly.


As such, cowboys instantly translate phrases like “government revenue enhancements” and “now pursuing other career opportunities” into “tax increases” and “got fired” without one twitch of their upper lip or one hitch in their giddyup.

So what do these straight talkers call “lean finely-textured beef,” the pieces of beef that, according to meatpacker mouthpiece J. Patrick Boyle, are so tiny they “are nearly impossible to separate using a knife” and must be heated slowly to separate the “fat from tissue,” then spun in a centrifuge before being sprayed with ammonia gas to kill any pathogens and flash frozen into, well…

Pink slime

Well, cowboys and their customers wouldn’t call it what two former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists, Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer, called it on ABC News March 7. They called it “pink slime.”

Nor would cowboys call it something that “kind of looks like play dough,” a suggestion from Kit Foshee, who ABC News identifies as “a corporate quality assurance manager at Beef Products Inc., the company that makes pink slime.”

Foshee, who knows both English and his company’s product well, adds that the “play dough” is “pink and frozen; it’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”

That’s if the “typical person” knew that pink slime — or lean finely-textured beef — even existed or that an estimated 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets today contains it.

Not a new thing

In fact, it’s a fair bet that few cowboys know what it is or that it’s been around for 20 years.

The irony to this slimy mess is that a cowboy — or at least one of Big Beef’s Big Bosses — Jo Ann Smith, a past president of the National Cattlemen’s Association, the forerunner of today’s National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and a former USDA food safety czar under the first President Bush, gave the process the government go-ahead to become what it is today: another reason for consumers to walk past the meat counter.

Beef trimmings

According to a Dec. 10, 1991, Kansas City Star story, Smith, while head of USDA meat inspection, had to choose between labeling this new technology “something like ‘beef trimmings’” — the meatpackers’ preferred phrase — or “what the underlings at USDA wanted it (called) …‘partially defatted beef.’”

Smith’s NCA pals liked “beef trimmings” because the more appealing phrase could “enhance the value of the beef carcass as much as $7 a head.”

Smith followed the money; she approved the “trimming” option and the trimming of dollars from unsuspecting consumers began shortly thereafter.

Changes things

Kansan rancher and meat seller Mike Callicrate remembers the shift. In the mid-1990s he attended a conference where the-then boss of IBP, one of the nation’s largest beef packers (now part of Tyson Foods) “proudly proclaimed that this ‘wonderful new process’ could find 11 percent lean in pure white fat.”

It turned out to be nearly as profitable for Smith after she left USDA in 1993. According to ABC, Smith served as a director of a BPI supplier, the biggest processor of partially defatted beef, where “she made at least $1.2 million over 17 years.”


What’s yet to be determined is how much market damage has been done to cattlemen by the controversial process that benefits packers far more than cowboys and consumers.

Maybe this is why Big Ag is so anxious for you to spend your checkoff and organizations’ dollars to make US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance ag’s central spokesman: they want you to foot the bill to clean up the messes they make.

Oh, what do cowboys call, as the editor of Drover’s Journal described it March 9, “(H)amburger and other food products treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli?”

“We used to call it dog food,” says rancher Callicrate.


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.



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