While there aren't large beef cattle herds locally, a lot of beef is produced in the smaller herds and from dairy farms where cows are no longer productive for milk but can be sold for beef. Farm sales of animals for beef contribute to the economy of the county.
Local livestock farmers are concerned about the unfortunate negative publicity recently that slams a healthy, nutritious beef product. That product is lean, finely textured beef that was called "pink slime." That term was picked up and spread widely across the country. Because of the adverse publicity, which was based on emotion and not fact, large buyers of the lean, finely textured beef stopped buying the product.
When roasts, steaks and other cuts are processed from beef, some of the lean beef and fat is trimmed away. A company in South Dakota developed a process to separate the fat from the lean, making a lean, low cost beef product that could be used in hamburger, sausage and other meats.
As part of the process, a mist of ammonium hydroxide is sprayed on the product to kill dangerous pathogens. Ammonium hydroxide is an FDA-approved product that has been used as an antimicrobial food additive in baked goods, cheeses, puddings, chocolates and other foods for years. It is found naturally in the environment, in the air, soil and water and in humans as well as plants and animals.
Some unfortunate publicity said this beef product was mixed with fertilizer and household ammonia, which was just plain not true. It is a federally inspected beef product, not an additive or a filler. It is 94 percent lean beef, which is higher in lean than much hamburger that is sold today.
Information from Feedstuffs, a well-respected publication, says that a study done by a University of Arkansas student found that this lean beef trim used in ground beef improved the fresh color and tenderness and reduces spoilage. Hamburger patties with 20 percent lean beef trim were also more tender and held up better than patties without trim, according to the study.
Feedstuffs also reported on a recent tour of the plant making this product attended by several mid-western state governors, USDA officials, food safety officials and university specialists. Gov. Sam Brownback from Kansas, among others, said the attacks on lean beef trim are not "merited" and have created an "unwarranted food scare." Others supported the safety and health of the product.
When all the adverse publicity came out about this beef product, food stores and restaurants were forced to stop buying it by the public outcry. This has forced the company that was making it to stop production, laying off about 600 employees. More recently, some buyers, realizing the product is safe and nutritious, have started buying it again.
As a result of this product not being made, regular hamburger may cost more. It has been in short supply and now supplies will be even tighter. These beef trimmings have been a more cost efficient way of using all the animal and safely keeping food costs down.
When we see information, good and bad, about our food products, we need to ask "what are the sources of this information?" Is it factual, based on sound research or has it been sensationalized for the news? It is difficult to know just what the facts are in many situations. And some people say we come up with a new "scare" about every week. Sorting out the facts is not always easy.
Parker is an independent agricultural writer.