Associated Press reports today that Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) – maker of ammoniated beef trimmings, or "pink slime" – has announced that it is suspending all but one of its four operations since demand for its controversial product has been more than halved.The
The announcement comes after major grocery retailers including Kroger and Safeway dropped the ammoniated beef from store shelves and school districts asserted they will phase out the pink slime after USDA's move to give schools a choice to opt out of serving the product to students.
BPI responded to these actions last week with a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, labeling media coverage of pink slime as a "mis-information campaign" against a company "that has long been recognized for its quality and safety."
Undoubtedly, BPI doesn't like the fact that people are focusing on the unappealing concept of leftover slaughterhouse beef trimmings and the use of ammonia to treat it that escapes package labeling, rather than focusing on the “Black Pearl Award” that BPI received for leadership in food safety. But according to former BPI employee Kit Foshee, BPI's industry recognition in food safety is based on false advertising.
"They want you to believe that they're all about food safety," Foshee said at FIC's conference last year. He explained how the company misleadingly portrayed to its customers that "if a company will use BPI's product in their ground beef that it makes it safer. That's absolutely false."
Foshee told conference attendees how BPI referenced reduced E. coli testing levels that were based on a controlled lab environment and adjusted pH levels not applicable in the product they actually sold to consumers – including using enough ammonia that the final product would reek so intensely that nobody would eat it!
He added that "BPI is actually a detriment to food safety because they told companies this" and companies started eliminating their own pathogen testing, thinking "we can use BPI's product and our problems are gone."
Based on these assertions, it would appear that BPI isn't quite the proponent of food safety as much as it is (as whistleblower Kit Foshee states) a promoter of claims "to further sales."
It's particularly ironic that BPI writes off the recent weeks' news reports as "mis-information," when in fact, BPI has allegedly deceived USDA and its customers. Who is the one really trying to keep information from the public?
BPI hopes to shift consumer sentiment in its own direction, otherwise the plants it suspended this week could be closed permanently. Whether or not consumers don't want to eat ammoniated beef because of the pink slime yuck factor or because BPI may have made false food safety claims, Americans are voting in favor of food industry transparency.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.