It's not often that British chef Jamie Oliver makes the op-ed page of the New York Times. But he did on Sunday.
Under the headline "What If it Weren't Called Pink Slime?" Jamie is pictured mimicking the addition of ammonia to one of America's favourite foods - hamburg (mince to you and me).
Yesterday the NYT reported that "The first casualties of the hamburger ingredient contemptuously dubbed 'pink slime' will likely not be anyone who eats it but rather the workers who make it."
The manufacturer, Beef Products Inc. is to close three of its four plants and lay off about 650 workers by May 25.
Yet, said the Times, the ingredient is safe, nutritious and inexpensive. It won't do anyone any harm - and it even may even do good: It lowers the fat content of a hamburger. Its industry name, rather than pink slime is "lean finely textured beef", LFTB for short. It uses tiny amounts of ammonia to kill off pathogens.
So what cost the 650 men their jobs?
"Partly it was the power of negative branding. Partly it was the power of the media, " said the Times.
From that it would seem that the people responsible for spreading the news on pink slime have a lot to answer for. And the first person mentioned is our Jamie.
"The downward spiral started a year ago," said the Times on Sunday when Jamie, host of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” did a segment on LFTB.
"He used a washing machine and ammonia to mimic the making of “pink slime.” He poured "copious amounts of ammonia and water on beef trimmings" and asked "appalled" mothers and children if they really wanted to eat it.
None did, said the Times. A clip of the show attracted some 1.5 million views on YouTube, and some fast-food chains stopped using the product.
Jamie was the first person mentioned in Sunday's paper - but perhaps he shouldn't have been.
When we get to line 70 of the report, we learn that the Times itself was first to publicise on December 31 2009 the term 'pink slime' "in an article by Michael Moss about safety problems across the beef industry."
This wasn't just a passing reference. The article, one of a number in a Pulitzer-prize winning series, ran to 3000 words - and this one was all about pink slime. http://tinyurl.com/cwfe7hl
In Sunday's article the Time says the term 'pink slime' was "coined in 2002 in an internal e-mail by the scientist at the Agriculture Department who felt it was not really ground beef".
What microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, actually said according to the Times in 2009 was, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”
As media reports continued, Beef Products sales plummeted.
In March, ABCNews ran a “a startling ABC News investigation” saying much of the ground beef sold in supermarkets contained “pink slime.”
ABC named supermarket chains selling hamburger with the ingredient and reported the growing numbers that had decided to stop doing so.
An online petition demanded that the Agriculture Department stop using the ingredient in school lunches. As 250,000 people signed, The department said it would allow schools to choose.
After all this, said the Times on Sunday , "The irony and the absurdity are that consumer experts say LFTB is safe, nutritious and relatively inexpensive.
"When mixed into ground beef, it lowers the average fat content of a hamburger." That sounds like a compliment.
In a taste test, four out of seven Times testers preferred burgers with 15 percent "pink slime" to those with none. Another compliment!
The Times in its Sunday piece says Beef Products Inc, "an industry leader in promoting safety, did in its process use a small amount of ammonia to kill off pathogens."
The paper assures readers B.P.I. will continue producing its lean beef on a reduced basis and says it hopes to restore public confidence. Some meat processors want permission to label products containing the ingredient.
Says the Times, " B.P.I. will have to do a lot better at public relations to get consumers to stop thinking of the ingredient as anything but pink slime."
"As unfair as this episode has been, industry and government should take it as a warning. Americans need to know more about the food they eat."
Perhaps the Times should let us know how it came to be publishing - in the eyes of we cynical journalists - what would appear to be a disguised correction. And on the Leader Page!
Unfair? Certainly unfair to Jamie as well as the meat company.
Maybe the Times should apologise to him, too.
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