Last modified on 19 December 2014, at 03:09

Professionalism/Kit Foshee and Beef Product Incorporated

In the late 1980s, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI) developed a method of salvaging beef from fatty trimmings.[1] This process, heating trimmings to about 100°F and then centrifuging them to separate fat from meat, was approved by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in 1990.[2][3] According to the American Meat Institute, the resulting lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is 95% lean.[3] BPI claims that LFTB is 100% beef since the only ingredient is beef trimmings,[4] but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will not allow products to be labelled 100% beef if more than 15% of their volume is LFTB.[5]

Four years after the approval of LFTB, Eldon Roth, the founder of BPI, began to develop a disinfection process.[1] The resulting pH enhancement system involved injecting the LFTB with gaseous ammonia to raise the pH above 9 and then flash freezing the meat.[6][7] Internal studies found that the process significantly reduced the prevalence of bacteria in LFTB and the process was submitted to FSIS for approval in 2001.[6] FSIS approved the disinfection method and decided that ammonia need not be listed on the ingredients list since it is only used as a processing aid.[2]

BPI's PerspectiveEdit

BPI claims to have always had the consumers' interests in mind. They created the LFTB manufacturing process to increase the yield of ground beef from cattle and they argue they have succeeded. According to a website run by BPI, without LFTB, 1.5 million more cattle would need to be slaughtered each year to meet demand.[8] The same website states that saving these trimmings is "absolutely" the right thing to do because it saves money and cattle.[4] BPI also purports to care about customer safety for their founder chose to develop the pH enhancement system "due to [BPI's] commitment to food safety."[1] Also, two years after FSIS' approval of the pH enhancement system, BPI commissioned a study at Iowa State University to independently verify the efficacy of this system. Niebuhr and Dickson (2003) did confirm BPI's original findings, verifying the safety of the disinfection technique.[7] BPI also recognizes and tries to assuage consumer fears about the pH enhancement system. Both their official website and their Beef is Beef website contain infographics showing that the patty made with LFTB actually has a lower concentration of ammonia than any other hamburger component except the bacon.[4] Finally, BPI firmly denies any allegations that LFTB is not real beef. Both websites they host insist multiple times that LFTB is 100% beef,[4][8] and when pressed about the issue, Regina Roth, Eldon Roth's wife, said "What should we label it? It's 100 percent beef. what do you want us to label it? I'm not prepared to say its anything other than beef, because its 100 percent beef."[9]

Before 2009, BPI was hailed for inventing LFTB. In 2007, the International Association for Food Protection honored BPI with the Black Pearl Award, which "recognizes individuals, organizations and companies for their ongoing commitment to food safety."[10] Interestingly, the International Association for Food Protection no longer lists their reasons for giving BPI the award,[11] but materials presented to attendees at the award ceremony said that "the pH enhancement process is recognized for improving food safety and is widely utilized in the best tasting ground beef." [12]

Key PersonnelEdit

Kit Foshee

Kit Foshee was a former Corporate Quality Assurance Manager at BPI. He raised national concern of pink slime with his insider knowledge of the product and mass media exposure under the help of Government Accountability Project (GAP). Both New York Times and USA Today got in touch with Foshee and reported the issue, drawing public attention nationwide. Foshee alleged that he witnessed the misrepresentation of microbial data to USDA, and false claims made to its processor customers that mixing a small amount of BPI-treated beef into their own ground beef product would eliminate deadly pathogens, such as E. coli. He also provided scientific documents, which according to him, proved that BPI misinterpreted the microbial reduction effectiveness of ammonia treatment. [13]

Foshee was not the only person who raised concern of pink slime. Gerald Zirstein was a microbiologist at USDA when he first coined the term pink slime to describe this BPI product, in an internal email sent to a co-worker back in 2002. Zirnstein and fellow USDA scientist Carl Custer both warned against using what the industry calls "lean finely textured beef," also known as the "pink slime." But their bosses overruled them. Custer, a retired USDA microbiologist, told ABC News why he never considered it beef. [14] In general, Zirstein was a reluctant whistle blower in this case, as compared to the bold and outspoken manner of Foshee.[15]

The whistleblowers are concerned with different aspects of the issue. For Foshee, it’s mainly a safety issue. As a food scientist, he pointed out the data fabrication and misinterpretation conducts of BPI and argued that the company tried to fool the government and public about product safety. For Zirstein and Custer, it’s a fraudulent labeling issue. To quote him in an interview with ABC, “It’s an economic fraud...It's a cheap substitute being added in". [16] In their point of view, the customers are being fooled by the government and BPI because they don't know what they are purchasing.

On the other end of the spectrum was people who made pink slime possible and even prevalent on the market. Joanne Smith was a key figure in this story because she used to serve as undersecretary of USDA and was the person that made the decision to pass pink slime under USDA regulation. When she stepped down from USDA in 1993, however, she quickly took a position on the board of director of BPI's principle major supplier, where she made at least 1.2 million dollars in 17 years. The USDA said while her appointment was legal at the time, under current ethics rules Smith could not have immediately joined the board. [17] This type of conflict of interest is suggestive that it's the common interest between BPI and USDA officer that lead to pink slime's prevalence in the ground beef product.

Media and Journal ProfessionalismEdit

As of May 2013, searching “pink slime” using popular search engines Google and Bing returns an image frequently purported to be of a manufacturing step of the beef product.[18] BPI has denied the image comes from their facilities, and a Texas A&M director of food safety has commented that the facilities imaged show practices that would indicate the plant is not USDA approved, and unlikely to be from BPI.[19] Social news sites had a significant role in the spread of this image, which illustrates a broader issue of sensationalism and misrepresentation that contributed to public outcry against BPI.

Zirstein’s memo introducing the term “pink slime” remained within the USDA until Dec 2009, when the New York Time’s Michael Moss published a Pulitzer Prize winning expose questioning the safety of the process.[20] In this piece, Moss reported on aspects of the process which are truthful, representative, and of concern to readers – such as concern for day-to-day treatment matching the stringency of studies approved by the USDA. Kit Foshee blew the whistle on this very subject 2 years later after working under the company, lending credibility to Moss’s concerns. While this topic received professional coverage in the piece, some issues raised did not. Moss points out the beef product is odorous and this has led to confusion among consumers, including among other examples, cooks at a Georgia prison in 2003 who mistook the ammonia smell as a sign of tainting. He does not identify the common factor to all these cases, which is that the product was uncooked when concerns of the odor arose. BPI contents with supporting study that the ammonia cooks out of its product,[21] and has shown in taste testing its product is not identified as inferior.[22] These aspects are overlooked in Moss’s article – and it is evident that in the explosion of reporting following his piece that similar oversight and unbalanced journalism is common.

A powerful example of media misrepresentation was aired March 2012 by the TV celebrity chef James Oliver. In a filmed crowd demonstration, Oliver presented what he held to be a representative demonstration of the ammonia treatment process, which involved running the meat through a front loading washing machine, pouring liquid ammonia on it, and sending it through a sausage grinder.[23] In technical terms, his demonstration fails on multiple levels, and exemplifies what the beef industry considers a “campaign of misinformation” by media. [24]

The sudden public outrage against BPI’s product led to a sharp decline in sales, which resulted in the closing of 3 out of 4 processing plants and the lay-off of 700 workers. There has also been substantial decline in the percentage of ground beef on the market containing the product, from its peak around 70% to the present 5%.[25] In response to media coverage, BPI has filed and is currently pursuing a defamation suit against American Broadcasting Company, Kit Foshee, and others it considers responsible for its losses.[26]

ConclusionEdit

This case is about the failure of professionalism on the side on BPI and USDA, where profit and conflict of interest surpassed honesty and social responsibility. In this case, the safety and information transparency are the two major aspects that BPI made mistakes on. Thanks to whistle blowers like Kit Foshee, Gerald Zirstein and Carl Custer, who displayed the integrity and responsibility of professionalism, this issue is brought to public attention. Fortunately, these whistle blowers are not alone. Social groups like the Food Integrity Campaign and GAP stood on their back and helped to receive mass media attention. Media exposure not only publicize the issue but also served as protection of whistle blowers from prosecution by target organizations. As a food product company, BPI's first and primary duty is producing safe and healthy food for the general public. The attempts to achieve short-term profits by carrying out unethical conducts will eventually be exposed and punished.

ReferencesEdit

  1. a b c Beef Products, Inc. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from http://www.beefproducts.com/history.php
  2. a b Derfler, P. (May 11, 2001). Letter to Dennis R. Johnson. Retrieved from http://s3.amazonaws.com/nytdocs/docs/173/173.pdf
  3. a b American Meat Institute (March 16, 2012). The Facts About Lean Finely Textured Beef. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDiPjmsKeh8
  4. a b c d Beef Products, Inc. (n.d.). FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.beefisbeef.com/faq-3/
  5. Aubrey, A. & Barclay E. (March 15, 2012). USDA to Give Schools More Ground Beef Choices After Outcry Over 'Pink Slime'. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/15/148685884/usda-to-give-schools-more-ground-beef-choices-after-outcry-over-pink-slime
  6. a b Gerhardt, P. (February 21, 2001). Process Validation of an Ammonia Treatment for Reducing the Pathogen Load in Lean, Finely-Textured Beef. Retrieved from s3.amazonaws.com/nytdocs/docs/173/173.pdf
  7. a b Niebuhr, S. E., & Dickson, J. S. (2003). Impact of pH enhancement on populations of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and Escherichia coli O157: H7 in boneless lean beef trimmings. Journal of Food Protection®, 66(5), 874-877.
  8. a b Beef is Beef (n.d.). Get the Facts. Retrieved from http://www.beefisbeef.com/get-the-facts/
  9. ABC 4 News (March 26, 2012). "Pink Slime" Maker Suspends Operations. Retrieved from http://www.abc4.com/content/news/top_stories/story/pink-slime-bpi-beef-products-inc/EPUgxUC3G0WYRRC36nrUlw.cspx
  10. International Association for Food Protection (2013). Past Awardees. Retrieved from http://www.foodprotection.org/about-us/history/past-awardees/index.php
  11. International Association for Food Protection (2013). The Black Pearl Award. Retrieved from http://www.foodprotection.org/about-us/awards/pdfs/Black-Pearl-Broch.pdf
  12. Dreeszen, D. (July 14, 2007). BPI receives Black Pearl award. Sioux City Journal. Retrieved from http://siouxcityjournal.com/business/bpi-receives-black-pearl-award/article_0560ed30-9a19-5993-80a8-9aefa7dc88e8.html
  13. http://www.foodwhistleblower.org/the-lifecycle-of-food/the-problems-of-processing/additives/kit-foshee
  14. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/70-percent-of-ground-beef-at-supermarkets-contains-pink-slime/
  15. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/25/us-food-slime-scientist-idUSBRE82N0AG20120325
  16. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/70-percent-of-ground-beef-at-supermarkets-contains-pink-slime/
  17. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/70-percent-of-ground-beef-at-supermarkets-contains-pink-slime/
  18. https://www.google.com/search?q=picture+of+pink+slime+machine&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS520US520&aq=f&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=8L2LUavzAYfg0gH14YGYCw&biw=982&bih=639&sei=8r2LUbriCITH0gGK-YG4Bg#um=1&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS520US520&hl=en&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=pink+slime&oq=pink+slime&gs_l=img.3..0l10.2537.3991.0.4091.10.10.0.0.0.0.119.643.9j1.10.0...0.0...1c.1.12.img.HP02HOC_h5c&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.46226182,d.dmQ&fp=decbeac4fb01d450&biw=982&bih=639
  19. http://business.time.com/2013/03/06/one-year-later-the-makers-of-pink-slime-are-hanging-on-and-fighting-back/print/
  20. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
  21. http://www.beefisbeef.com/faq-3/
  22. http://www.beefproducts.com/
  23. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwwFiG-mQ_4
  24. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42473.pdf]
  25. http://business.time.com/2013/03/06/one-year-later-the-makers-of-pink-slime-are-hanging-on-and-fighting-back/print/
  26. http://www.beefisbeef.com/2012/09/12/defamation-claim/