The consumer backlash against a meat product made from leftovers and treated with chemicals is making a bad situation worse for Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. (TSN) ahead of the beef industry's peak sales period.
Kroger Co. (KR), the largest U.S. grocery-store chain, last month stopped buying ground beef containing what processors call lean, finely textured beef, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) said it would offer customers meat without the additive.
Lower demand for the product -- dubbed "pink slime" by critics -- has prompted Cargill, the biggest U.S. beef processor, to scale back output of the lean meat at four plants. Tyson says beef supply will decline. The companies, already dealing with higher cattle costs, may start labeling ground beef with the product as the industry tries to back shoppers' confidence ahead of the U.S. summer grilling season.
"Pink slime" consists of finely ground beef scraps, sinew, fat, and connective tissue which have been mechanically removed in a heated centrifuge at 100°F (38°C) from the fat into liquid fat and a protein paste. The recovered material is processed, heated, and treated with ammonia gas or citric acid to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other bacteria. The term pink slime was coined in 2002 by Gerald Zirnstein, who at that time was a microbiologist for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.