Cargill will now label beef containing "pink slime"

Finely textured beef, or as it's commonly known, "pink slime"
Finely textured beef, or as it's commonly known, "pink slime"
Cargill Inc.

There's a great scene from the third season of Mad Men in which Don Draper meets with the developers of Madison Square Garden, who are in desperate need of a public makeover. Plans to raze Penn Station and replace it with an arena have been met with hostility.

The ad man gives his advice: "If you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation."

Cargill Inc., the Minneapolis-based producer of processed beef, has managed to both change the conversation and give in to consumer demand. This week, the company announced that it will soon begin labeling its beef products that contain "Finely Textured Beef" as a result of last year's "pink slime" controversy.

See also:
 "Pink slime" no longer sold at Eden Prairie-based Supervalu family of stores

For decades, beef processors have been producing and mixing the stuff with ground beef -- essentially to make a leaner burger while using up more of the cow -- although their methods differ. Cargill, for instance, takes extra bits of beef that were stuck to fatty trimmings and adds citric acid to kill E.Coli or other dangerous contaminants.

South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., on the other hand, uses ammonium hydroxide to process its beef add-in. The public outcry over this practice was so loud that BPI, a major supplier to McDonald's, closed three plants.

Despite the position of federal regulators that the method is safe -- as well as a highly publicized political tour that broadcast the slogan, "Dude, it's beef!" -- the whole thing still manages to make people queasy.

Michael Martin, a Cargill spokesman, said in an email that the company's volume of "Finely Textured Beef" dropped 80 percent during last year's media frenzy.

It conducted surveys over the past 18 months and determined that consumers -- surprise, surprise -- overwhelmingly preferred to know what they were about to ingest.

"We talked to more than 3,000 U.S. ground beef consumers and found that they are fine with the product when they know what it is and how it's produced," Martin said. "For consumers, it's a matter of transparency about the food they are eating. For retailers, it's a matter of providing consumers with choice."

The new labels are slated to debut early next year, in time for the grilling season.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]

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