By now much of America has learned that they have been unknowingly eating pink slime burgers for many years, and the vehement and widespread consumer revulsion means that the slime burger industry is fighting for its life. The controversy, first exposed by the New York Times in late 2009 (a piece we followed with our take in early 2010), has caused slime creator Beef Products International (BPI) to close three of its four plants, as fast food and supermarket chains have declared they will no longer use slimed beef.
While these are welcome developments, much of the recent reporting has failed to acknowledge why industry has been so fond of the slime for so long. As a 2004 peer-reviewed study on contamination of ground beef by deadly e. coli bacteria stated, a major problem in beef processing is that “Contamination of beef products primarily occurs during slaughter when meat is contaminated by fecal material.”
Pink slime was developed so beef processors could sell the most shit-stained slaughterhouse scraps as meat for human food — previously it could only go to pet food or non-food uses. As Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser told PBS, such shit-contamination of meat is common:
We have slaughterhouses that will process 300, 400 cattle an hour, which is as much as twice as many as anywhere else in the world. And it’s that speed of production that can lead to food-safety problems. When workers are working very quickly, they may make mistakes. It’s during the evisceration of the animal, or the removal of the hide, that manure can get on the meat. And when manure gets on some meat, and then that meat is ground up with lots of other meat, the whole lot of it can be contaminated.
By dousing slaughterhouse scraps with ammonia, BPI makes the shit-filled meat acceptable to the USDA. Approval by USDA is not a very high bar: as a report last month found, USDA’s latest meat processing plan is to allow self-inspection of poultry plants. Since 1998, the agency has permitted such inspections in 14 poultry plants as a pilot plan. They now want to expand the practice to all U.S. poultry plants, so you would think the pilot project has been going very well – but you’d be wrong. According to documents that Food & Water Watch received from a Freedom of Information Act request, monitoring of the self-inspections found that food quality and food safety problems were routinely overlooked. The problem the private inspectors missed most often? Fecal contamination of poultry, which was listed on 90% of the non-compliance records.
But some people are not afraid of a little feces in their meat. To prove that they can eat shit and not die, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and several other tasteless, processed-food loving politicians stepped up last week to announce that they would gladly eat slime burgers, recalling memories of some other episodes of public dare eating by promoters of dangerous products:
In 1947, British health workers eat DDT in an attempt to show Kenyan tribes people that the pesticide is safe. The tribe appears unconvinced.
Throughout the 1960’s, Atomic Energy Commission chair Dixy Lee Ray offers to eat plutonium to allay public fears over nuclear power plants. Denying any radiation effects, she stated, “There is no evidence that survivors of the Hiroshima bombings have suffered any more cancer than anyone else.” In fact, a peer-reviewed 1994 study found that overall cancer rates increased dramatically after the war, and that “The populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki now have among the highest rates of liver cancer in the world.”
In 1990, with public concern about Mad Cow disease threatening the UK beef industry, British Agriculture Minister John Gummer publicly fed a burger to his four-year old daughter Cordelia, denying any link between beef eating and the human form of the disease, called nvCJD. The UK government finally acknowledged the link in 1996. In 2007, a 23-year old daughter of Gummer’s close friend Roger Smith dies of nvCJD.
In 2009, an executive of GMO company Aqua Bounty acknowledges he has eaten genetically modified (GMO) salmon that is not yet approved for human sale, stating the fish is no different than natural salmon. In 2011, leaked documents show the company covered up the fact that the GMO salmon tested positive for a serious fish virus in 2009.
Also in 2009, Monsanto representatives reportedly tell Hawaiians concerned about herbicide spraying that their Roundup weed killer is “so safe you can drink it” (a claim that many farmers say the company sales reps have circulated for years). An offer by one local activist to pass around a cup is refused.
In 2011, Japanese Parliamentarian Yasuhiro Sonoda drinks water collected from under the exploded Fukushima nuclear plant to demonstrate that the “decontaminated” water, which is being used around the plant for grounds keeping, is safe to drink. A month later, a report notes that water leaking from the plant contains up to one million times as much radioactive strontium as the maximum safe level, and about 300 times the safe level of radioactive cesium. Both are readily absorbed by living tissue and can greatly increase the risk of developing cancer. Sadly, Japanese newscaster Otsuka Norikazu was diagnosed with leukemia following his public eating of food from Fukushima-area farms to allay fears about radiation contamination of the area’s food.