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Once the basis of a lawsuit lean finely textured beef now considered the real deal

News Staff - February 17, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC - The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that a product at the heart of a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit now can be labeled and sold as ground beef.

In September 2012, Beef Products Inc., Dakota Dunes, SD, sued ABC News and its parent company Disney over the use of a term in a 2012 news report used to identify what BPI calls ‘lean finely textured beef.’  It was a former Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, who actually named the product "pink slime" in a 2002 agency email.

BPI said it recorded $400 million in lost profits, had to close three plants and lay off 700 workers because of the backlash from ABC’s use of the phrase.

ABC News settled the $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit in June 2017. Terms of the settlement were never disclosed but Disney had reported spending $177 million on a legal settlement during the quarter that its subsidiary ABC and the South Dakota meat processor announced the settlement.

At the heart of the matter is the use of what BPI calls ‘lean, finely textured beef’ (LFTB) made from carcass trimmings treated  with ammonia gas and added to hamburger . In 2001, USDA approved the product for limited human consumption. LFTB prepared using ammonia gas is banned for human consumption in the European Union.  The U.S. government’s position was that LFTB has been a “qualified component” of hamburger, meaning it can be included in ground beef without being independently disclosed.

Now, after a months-long evaluation, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has determined that BPI’s signature lean, finely textured beef product can be labeled ground beef and sold directly to the public. According to news reports, a FSIS spokesperson has said that after reviewing BPI’s submission of a new product and new production process, FSIS determined that the product meets the regulatory definition of ground beef under the law in 9 CFR 319.15(a) and may be labeled accordingly.

In a more localized development, the full South Dakota legislature may hear Senate Bill 68 that passed unanimously out of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee last week.

SB 68 would add this language to Chapter 39-4 on Adulterated and Misbranded Foods: A food product shall be deemed to be misbranded if the product is labeled or branded in a false, deceptive, or misleading manner that misrepresents the product as a meat food product as defined in § 39-5-6, a meat by-product as defined in § 39-5-6, or as poultry. For the purposes of this title, the term, poultry, includes anything containing meat intended for or capable of use for human consumption, that is derived, in whole or in part, from any domesticated bird intended for human consumption [Senate Bill 68, as filed 2019.01.23].

Food labeling has become a hot button issue across many commodities.  An example is the recent developments of lab created meat products ready to come to market. Commodity groups are demanding federal agencies require clear labeling of those products in the grocery market meat case.

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