The truth about 'pink slime' and the booming business it brings to a local farmer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Whether you call it "pink slime" or "lean finely textured beef," the media storm surrounding the beef product has slammed the beef industry. The main manufacturer, Beef Products, Inc., has had to close three processing plants including one in Kansas.

But on a farm a couple hours north of Kansas City, its customers are slamming Wells Family Farm with new business on the heels of the "pink slime" chaos.

Their vast grass pastures drew Kim Wells in.

"You can see every shade of green here," she said.

The beef from this farm is grass fed, certified organic and packed at a small local plant with no "pink slime" in sight. People are paying attention.

"I would say I gained probably three to four hundred customers," said Wells. Those new customers came with "pink slime" questions and Wells was armed with answers.

"What is ‘pink slime' to you? Have you used it?" she said, mimicking the questions she received.

"Oh no," she would answer. "Never, never will. Never have. We use every bit of that product."

Wells does not agree with the claims that lean finely textured beef is a safe addition to ground beef.

"Let's pull another one over everybody's eyes," she said.

"Do they need to do this? No. No. Is it horrible what they do to that ‘pink slime' to make it a viable product? Yes."

Kara Friel, a clinical dietician at the University of Kansas Hospital, disagrees.

"‘Pink slime'? I mean who wants to eat that?" she said. "But really, it is a slang term for the lean textured beef which is 100% beef."

Friel would rather turn attention away from "LFTB" or lean finely textured beef, dubbed "pink slime" and turn attention back to portion sizes and overall health.

"It is natural, it is beef," she said.

She is right. It is beef, what is left over after steaks and other cuts are made. But it is also processed. That process that has so many concerned is described on the website BeefIsBeef.com which was created by BPI. They list it among the "Eight Myths of Pink Slime."

They said, "The boneless lean beef trimmings become ‘finely textured' using high-technology food processing equipment...warmed to help separate away the fat so that only the beef remains."

They went on to say a puff of ammonia is added to kill any bacteria. That ammonia is part of the concern for many but still not for Friel.

"It's not a big deal," she said. "It is what the FDA has approved to keep us safe. We don't want to eat beef that has been exposed to E.coli; I buy ground beef at the grocery store. Growing up, we bought it from the butcher."

McGonigle's Market in Kansas City hails back to those neighborhood butcher days.

"We grind all of our ground beef products here from whole muscle products. We use boneless chucks, rounds, loins, sirloins," owner Mike McGonigle said.

He isn't convinced lean finely textured beef is the best for consumption.

"You really don't know what you're getting. You don't know which part of the animal it comes from."

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and other governors joined the USDA to insist that lean, finely textured beef is safe.

"This is an unmerited, unwarranted food scare," Brownback said. "It is going to raise the cost of lean hamburger. It would take, some estimates are, as many as a million additional head of cattle to replace this amount of beef that will be lost if this product is removed."

But a senator from Maine is calling for a full ban of "pink slime" which is something that Canada and the UK have already done. Beef Products, Inc. has shut down three processing plants, including one in Kansas. Next fall, American school districts will get to choose whether they purchase meat containing LFTB. Major fast food chains like McDonald's and Taco Bell have stopped selling it, hoping to stay with customer demand. Demand from Kansas City customers seems to be increasing for less-processed beef.

Watch 41 Action News at 10 TONIGHT for more on the "pink slime" impact on the beef industry.

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