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What Are ‘Lean Finely Textured Beef Trimmings’ Doing In My Supper?

We had a neat-and-tidy informational piece covering another aspect of the ongoing debate about healthcare reform ready for today, but just couldn’t face publishing it.  There are some experts who fear that the Supreme Court could be misunderstanding some aspects of President Obama’s legislation, believing that the law’s insurance mandate requirement is worse and more burdensome than it actually is.  Come again?  We’re pretty sure the Supreme Court justices are up to speed on the Affordable Care Act‘s potential consequences.  That’s their job.  We may not always agree with their decisions, but their competence is sure.  So we tossed that particular article.

Which brings us to today’s other thoughts.  In honor of yesterday’s musings about street eats and sensible food safety precautions, we now consider PinkSlimeGate 2012:

Gross!  You’ve been hearing about this stuff – and doesn’t it sound revolting?  Talk about an uninvited guest!  Would you welcome to join you and your family at the table to eat — by choice — anything called ‘lean finely textured beef trimmings’?  And do you know what these beef trimmings are made of?  Ground up connective tissue – which most certainly comes from animals, but is not meat.  Meat is muscle tissue.  Anyway, the connective tissue is mixed with fat and then treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill off E. coli and salmonella.  It’s called by its nickname, pink slime, because that’s exactly what it looks like.

Here we have a perfectly legal, US Department of Agriculture-endorsed food additive that number one, we don’t want,  and number two, they don’t have to tell us is in there!  Current regulations do not require that processing companies disclose the use of this ingredient on their meat labels.

Not that the labels are without other USDA requirements.  For example, ‘Nutrition Facts‘ are required on packages of ground meat and poultry, as well as on packages of certain whole cuts.  We are encouraged to use these fact panels to sort out the calories and grams of total fat and saturated fat the meat in question contains; we are told that 80/20 or 70/30 denotes the lean-to-fat ratio.  The labels indicate, too, the serving size recommendation, most often 4 ounces raw (about the size of a deck of cards) , which cooks down to  3 ounces or so.  So far so good.

Now we come to the next episode in the whole red meat thing.  The findings of an enormous study were recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.  The headline? A 3-ounce serving of red meat (whole or processed) was consistently associated with increased risk of total, cancer and cardiovascular mortality.  That’s just one single serving, one little pack of cards on the plate, a piece of meat the size of a small woman’s clenched fist.

Harvard researchers have been following 83,000 female and 37,000 male health care workers since the 1980’s, and the study is based on their results.  Red meat was defined as pork, lamb and beef, including hamburger.  Processed red meat included salami, bacon, bologna and sausage.

The researchers concluded that 7 percent of early deaths in women and 9 percent in men could be prevented if people reduced their red meat consumption to no more than one-half serving a day.  A one-half serving is defined as 1.5 ounces.  Interesting, isn’t it, that the new ‘Nutrition Facts’ label for meats still define a serving  as 3 ounces, or twice the suggested safe or prudent amount.  The Harvard group also noted that substituting other proteins — fish, poultry, low-fat dairy and legumes — reduced the early mortality risk.

One of the fine nutritionists with the Mayo Clinic, Jennifer Nelson, MS, RD,  said it best:

The meat controversy continues to sizzle.   To me, though the message is clear: We should eat less red meat, less often.  Choose your motivation — the “ick” factor or the medical research.  What’s your take on it?

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