Henry Miller and Jeff Stier, in their recent article at Forbes.com decry the use of the term ‘pink slime’ for “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB), the industry-preferred euphemism for ammonia treated beef trimmings. [I will use the term LFTB throughout this post.] In fact, they are so upset with the media and activists calling LFTB ‘pink slime’ that they resort to wild exaggeration, unsupported claims, and incorrect statements to emphasize their message. They say that “Anti-Technology Activists Are The Real Slime.” That’s right, they are calling people slime.
Why do they call us ‘The Real Slime.” Yes, I am a REAL FOOD activist, and I don’t approve of LFTB or its other ‘food’ cousins’ and according to Henry Miller and Jeff Stier I AM SLIME. They say we’re ignorant and base our views on intuition, not on science or facts. Really? They say that the way LFTB is produced ‘sounds unappetizing.’ That sure is an understatement, if there ever was one. They don’t mention that Beef Products, Inc., a maker of LFTB, uses ammonium hydroxide on the beef scrapings to kill bacteria; they just say it is treated “to make it inhospitable to bacteria.” “Inhospitable to bacteria”–another euphemism! Actually, the article never once uses the word ammonia, but they claim that this process, again never mentioning the word ammonia, is “both healthful and safe.” Where’s their scientific proof of that? While they never provide proof of the safety and healthfulness of LFTB, they do provide ‘scientific’ backup for why the process is used–to reduce processing costs. They quote Jim Dickson, a professor from Iowa State University, saying, ” . . . using this process with the fat trim recovers 10-12 pounds of additional lean meat from each carcass. . . . we can meet consumer demands with lower prices and fewer cattle.”
They try to justify foods like LFTB through comparison to traditional meat dishes that they say have the same “yuk factor.” They imply that the processing of LFTB is no better and no worse than the way these other “yuk” foods are made, such as scrapple, head cheese, and haggis. You can use the links to find out more about these foods, but they all make use of nutritious parts of the animal, such as organ meats, bones, and animal gelatins. Also, yes, they do make good use of the whole animal, which may seem strange to many modern Americans who are only used to eating the muscle meat of an animal and may have never eaten organ meats or bone broths. These traditional meat preparations have been highly prized by some cultures for centuries. Although I do eat organ meats and bone broths, I am not familiar with the specific foods they mention, but I could not find any indication that their processing requires ammonia, other chemicals, or, in fact, any preparation step or ingredient not commonly used at home. Those traditional, so-called “yuk” foods were boiled, cooked, or baked, not gassed, ammoniated, or industrialized. Could you ammoniate your beef at home? I would guess not!
Another justification of LFTB is that it “has been used for decades by schools, leading fast-food outlets and major supermarket chains . . .” Does the fact that it’s been eaten for so long by an unknowing public make it good? Make it okay? There’s not much to say about this statement, because, the simple fact that it has been used for a long time doesn’t prove anything, either good or bad, other than it isn’t an outright poison.
At this point in the article, the authors again resort to name calling, saying about the LFTB issue: “Know-nothing food activists have had a field day. The real (and ridiculous) agenda of many who are trashing LFTB is to get us all to go organic.” [Emphasis mine.] Now we’re “Know-nothing food activists” and we’re doing it just to get people to eat organic? Really? So I’m a food activist just because I want everybody to eat organic? Could there just maybe be another reason I don’t approve of LFTB? Where in there is my concern for health and nutrition? They go on to say that “all the activists seem to want us to eat only New York strip steaks and filet mignon from organic, grass-fed, free-range cattle that were raised listening to Peter, Paul and Mary protest songs.” All the activists? I’m just one of many food and health activists who don’t want to eat LFTB or similar foods, and most of us would never recommend that the only meats that should be eaten are steaks and filet mignon. Many of us have learned that some of the best nutrition from animal foods comes from the organ meats and broths made with the bones. (They’re usually much cheaper to buy and prepare, as well.) So why would we want anyone to eat only expensive muscle meat? Yes, we do recommend eating meat from grassfed cows–because that is their natural diet. The cows are healthier when eating naturally and living outdoors on pasture; therefore, their meat is healthier for us too. Cows raised in confinement (CAFO) on grains are sickly and so poorly nourished that they require antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to make a profit. How can eating meat from unhealthy cows be good for us? Meat from grassfed cows would not be so expensive if grassfed cattle ranchers were as heavily promoted and supported by the government as are the CAFO facilities.
In their next attempt to justify the use of LFTB, they mention an outbreak of Salmonella from frozen raw yellowfin tuna. The contamination was from a tuna product called “tuna scrape” which they now “christen . . . ‘red slime.’” Yes, that is terrible, but how could bringing up another unacceptable, unsafe process justify LFTB?
The authors now go back to their name-calling. Activists are said to be sanctimonious toward food, a term which, according to Merriam-Webster, is clearly unflattering–”hypocritically pious or devout.” They criticize activists who think that we should spend more time, and money, on food preparation for our health’s sake, implying that we are being unfair to poor people “who can’t afford organic free-range guinea hens or morel mushrooms ($1,280 a pound at your local Whole Foods).” This is another gross exaggeration. You absolutely don’t need to be able to afford these foods to eat REAL nutritious food. It isn’t necessary to be rich to eat healthily, but it is necessary to spend your food dollars wisely–skip the nutrient-empty foods like soft drinks, chips, sugar cereals, and snack foods–buy fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, eggs, and milk.
You’d think they’d gone so far over the top at this point that they would’ve fallen down the other side, but no, there’s more! Henry Miller and Jeff Stier praise and quote Dick Taverne, author of The March of Unreason, as decrying “organic food activists’ resistance to many proven technologies, including agricultural chemicals and food irradiation, but he singles out in particular their intractable objection to genetic engineering of plants and animals.” It is scientific fact that independent research (not funded by the biotech industry itself) by respectable scientists has found significant problems with the safety of genetically engineered (GE) crops that at least deserve further study before allowing further spread of potential harm to humans and animals. These scientists include Dr. Arpad Pusztai , Dr. Andres E. Carrasco, and Dr. Don Huber, among others. Taverne uses the ploy often claimed by avid supporters of GE crops–that GE is no different from the genetic modification that humans have been applying to plants for thousands of years. If his confusion of genetic modification with genetic engineering is not a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the subject, then he must not know much about either genetic modification or genetic engineering. He calls the arguments of those who are concerned about GE crops “perverse” and “utterly wrong-headed.” It is fairly obvious even to someone outside of science that the genetic modifications used all those many years do not compare at all to genetic engineering which absolutely requires a sophisticated lab and billions of research dollars to accomplish. Most of the genetic modifications they so easily say are just the same as GE were done by farmers, did not require a lab–at least for most of those thousands of years, and they never combined two incompatible species to generate a living organism. However, genetic engineering melds fish and plants, spiders and goats, bacteria and plants, in ways that are completely impossible outside of a lab. The results of such combinations are not yet predictable or even completely controllable by those who engineer them. For more information about the problems scientists have found with genetically engineered plants and animals, read my previous posts: It’s Not Pretty Behind the Biotech Veil, an Interview with Howard Vlieger, and What Does Genetically Engineered (or GMO) Mean?
When people don’t have a logical, rational argument to defend what they believe, they unfortunately often resort to calling the other side by derogatory names. It sure looks like that’s what has happened here. The authors close their article by adding one last insulting name to their list–”food activists are the loudest [quacks].” Yes, they call us not only “The Real Slime” but also “the loudest [quacks].” Henry Miller and Jeff Stier call people who want to be healthy by eating nutritious, safe food by all of these names: ‘the real slime,’ know-nothing, ridiculous, sanctimonious, and now quacks–the loudest quacks. Why do they call us insulting names? It’s because we don’t agree with their support of using LFTB, genetically combining unlike species, and fooling people into eating cheap, unhealthy food. The authors even name several food activists for particular scorn, including Michele Simon, Mark Bittman, and Alice Waters. But they call “brilliant” the work of someone (Dick Taverne) who can’t seem to distinguish between genetic modification and genetic engineering.
By the way, I think it’s important to understand the background of the authors. Henry I. Miller, according to his bio with the Forbes article, is a biomedical scientist; FDA drug regulator and scholar at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He says that during his time at the FDA, he was a “medical reviewer for the first genetically engineered drugs . . . was the founding director of the FDA‘s Office of Biotechnology.” [emphasis mine] He has “written four books and more that 1,200 articles.” His “most frequent topics include genetic engineering, pharmaceutical development, and the debunking of junk science.” He ends his bio with this somewhat surprising statement: “I’m intolerant of dishonesty and hypocrisy and expose them at every opportunity.” It seems to me that, if he is truly “intolerant of dishonesty and hypocrisy” that he has provided himself with another debunking opportunity–his own diatribe.
No bio is provided with the Forbes article for Jeff Stier; however, a Google search gives this information: Jeff Stier has a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cordozo School of Law. He is “a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. He was the Associate Director of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) from 1997-2010. . . . Mr. Stier also worked both in the office of the Mayor and in Corporation Counsel’s office in the Giuliani administration in New York City. His responsibilities included planning environmental agency programs, legal analysis of proposed legislation, and health policy.”
Update September 17, 2013: “‘Pink slime’ returns to school lunches in 4 more states”