Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Politics & Hamburgers

I live in the middle of Iowa so when ABC News came out with their report on "Pink Slime" the local media went crazy for a few weeks with reports from scientists, politicians and beef industry leaders. This particular controversy revolved around the fact that finely textured beef undergoes a process that includes ammonium hydroxide, and when it is used the consumer does not have to be informed. Some say that ammonia is not safe and shouldn't be ingested. Others just want the consumer to be informed of the process on the package when they purchase the beef.

I am not going to argue the safety or the science in this post.  This fiasco hasn’t affected our beef purchases as we have not been buying meat with the additive.  My family gets our ground beef from my in-laws or from Picket Fence Creamery and Tom’s Ranch.  What has been so crazy to me is the politics that has gone on during the public's realization of the finely textured beef process. It has caused me to question more.

We are told the reason that this food additive is needed is to keep the cost down, but the math doesn’t add up to me. We have three main grocery store chains where I live. Hy-Vee Food Stores sells ground beef with the additive, and Dahl's and Fareway do not. If the point is to keep the cost down why is the price of Hy-Vee beef typically more expensive than Fareway (without the additive)? Where did the savings go? The schools in our state are using the beef with the additive. Maybe they could save money by shopping at Fareway? :)

I am in no way an expert on this process. I have listened to and read some of the reports, but here is something I don't understand: If finely textured beef is so safe, why does it need to be processed with ammonium hydroxide while the rest of the ground beef doesn't? I have heard a lot about how safe the process itself is -how it kills e coli-but why is the beef so unsafe and in need of ammonium hydroxide? Why is the finely textured beef so susceptible to e coli?

As a mom with allergy kids I read a lot of labels. Even if there is no dairy in that particular food, the label tells the consumer if food was made on equipment that had dairy on it. If food doesn’t have wheat or nuts in it, but there was wheat or nuts in the building where the food was packaged the consumer is informed of this on the label. Why is it not required to list the ammonium hydroxide? They are saying that it is not an ingredient, it is a process. However, this type of information is provided on other products. Why not list it?

The whole thing feels dishonest...the cost savings that isn't, the questions left unanswered and the double standard in makes me sad and uncomfortable.  On a personal level I am thankful to have other options so readily available to me, but on the grander scale this is disturbing.

(If you have a keen eye for detail you will notice this is a dairy cow and not a beef cow, but it is one of my favorite pictures of my son on the farm with his cousin and uncle. It was just too cute not to use!)
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