Pink Slime and Consumer Choice, by Cherylyn Harley LeBon

lebon_smRecently, we have been besieged with news reports about hamburger.

At issue is whether hamburger containing lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is safe and should be part of our diet.

As I am a mom, food safety warnings naturally raise a red flag. Before anyone decides whether to sell or serve hamburger with LFTB, however, it is necessary to discover and clarify the facts.

Contrary to some media portrayals, LFTB is beef — 95 percent lean beef to be exact.

LFTB was approved by the government in 2001, and it is often blended with cheaper and fattier hamburger to increase a meal’s protein levels. But the immediate response by some people who have seen the sensationalized news stories in which LFTB is called “pink slime” is to stop using the meat.

It’s no help that LTFB is unappealing to the eyes, but looks have never been a prerequisite to producing a popular meat product. For example, have you ever seen a chicken slaughtered? Personally, I have not. If I did, I am sure I would never view chicken the same way again.

My first concern is always safety, and no one has proven there are safety problems with LFTB. Even critics are not asserting health or safety risks. Last month, Kevin Concannon, the Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said LFTB is “safer, leaner and less costly” than other types of ground beef.

Additionally, a new University of Arkansas study shows that hamburger with LFTB reduces spoilage and improves the shelf life of refrigerated hamburger.

In spite of these facts, some grocery stores seem to be exploiting consumer ignorance. They have stopped selling hamburger with LFTB. This will result in increased hamburger prices for consumers and increased profits for grocers and their suppliers. According to that same University of Arkansas study, eliminating LFTB would add 20 to 25 cents per pound to the price of hamburger.

Rising gas prices. Higher-priced consumer goods. Increased meat prices can now be added to the list of reasons parents must find new ways to balance their checkbooks in this challenging economy.

Consumers need a choice in what they buy and serve to their families. Some grocers — including Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee — chose to give consumers a choice between ground hamburger with or without LFTB. Each variety is labeled appropriately, and doing so lets shoppers make an informed choice.

Some people may think an extra 25 cents a pound is not much, but — for low-income families — this is an important factor. Moreover, why should families bear a cost placed upon them by food elitists who want to dictate what foods we should consume based on their standards?

In mid-March, the Agriculture Department allowed school districts to decide whether to purchase meat blended with LFTB for their school lunch programs. Since LFTB is roughly 95 percent lean, it can be blended with cheaper hamburger to increase a meal’s overall protein level.

Schools can choose to pay more money for hamburger without LFTB and a higher fat content, or they can use less taxpayer money for hamburger blended with LFTB that contains less fat and more protein. With the alarming rates of obesity in our country and decreasing school budgets, school districts would be wise to choose the latter.

Grocers and meat processors can appropriately label their hamburger and allow families to make their own decisions. If we allow the food elitists to define the narrative, it may be the consumers who are left without a choice and with fewer options and higher prices.

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Cherylyn Harley LeBon is member of the National Advisory Council of Project 21. She is a former Senior Counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow her on Twitter (@HarleyLeBon). Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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