Beef Products Inc. Works to Shake Off 'Pink Slime' Label

The meat-processing company that sued ABC News for calling its beef “pink slime” now is producing “100 percent ground beef,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s labeling board.

Beef Products Inc., based in South Dakota, said the USDA stamp of approval did not result from a reclassification of its former product but from federal recognition of improvements in the company’s processing.

“This is not something that just happened,” said Nick Roth, the company’s director of engineering. “We’ve been working on this for a long time, really since the beginning inception of the company.”

The company for years has separated, cured and freeze-dried leftover beef carvings to create its “lean finely textured beef,” which ABC News described as pink slime in 2012 reports. Automation, grinding and other technological improvements today allow more of the cow to be processed, resulting in the more accurate “ground beef” label, company officials say.

“We can take 100 percent of our lean ground beef and produce a patty out of it and do a taste panel against other commercially available ground beef,” said Craig Letch, director of sales. “We demonstrated there was no difference ”

After a rigorous review of the company’s processing and production facility in Dakota City, Nebraska, USDA officials labeled its new product as ground beef in November.

A spokesperson for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Thursday that the agency still recognizes “lean finely textured beef” as a category, but that label no longer applies to the meat-processing company’s product.

The new label came about 17 months after Beef Products Inc. had settled its $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News, anchor Diane Sawyer and reporter Jim Avila.

The amount of the settlement was not announced, but Disney ABC’s parent company filed a $177 million litigation settlement for the quarter that ended days after the settlement was reached in June 2017, The Sioux City Journal reported.

Beef Products Inc. sued the news organization in 2012 over its reports. The company argued that the reports scared consumers away from its product by sensationalizing the ingredients, such as ammonia, which is used in small, safe amounts to kill bacteria in beef that can make humans sick. A crop in sales forced the company to cut jobs and close facilities, it said.

Under a South Dakota statute, ABC News could have faced more than $5 billion in damages. After a 17-day trial before a county judge in Elk Point, South Dakota, ABC and Beef Products Inc. settled out-of-court.

Company officials said the move to producing ground beef should be seen as recognition of where the market is going, not a rejection of lean finely textured beef.

“We’re not trying to distance ourselves [from the previous product], but we’re trying to make things better,” Mr. Letch said.

Lean finely textured beef had been a “quality component” of ground beef mixtures found in grocery chains and fast-food restaurants, company officials said.

Today Beef Products Inc.’s ground beef can be sold directly to the public, though the company has not yet announced any plans to do so.

“We’re ultimately able to use and take all the lean beef from every animal all that potential,” said Mr. Roth, adding that the company will use fewer raw materials. “You can imagine how much savings [this brings] from a land, water and corn standpoint.”


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