DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. — In an illustration of how online social media tools can suddenly mobilize consumers and amplify backlash, Beef Products Inc., manufacturer of the filler ingredient that critics have labeled “pink slime,” this week was forced to suspend operations at three of its four plants, as major supermarket chains sought to distance their brands from the ingredient.
During the second week of March, former U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Gerald Zirnstein told ABC News that 70% of ground beef sold at supermarkets contained “pink slime,” a term that he had coined for lean finely textured beef while working at USDA. In news reports, several chains, including Publix, H.E. Butt Grocery Co., Whole Foods Markets, A&P and Costco said that ground beef sold at their stores did not include lean finely textured beef or other fillers.
Other major chains were mostly silent on the issue, but consumer indignation began building on social media sites, along with online petition site Change.org. Public relations efforts by industry groups such as the American Meat Institute — aimed at describing the filler as a safe, natural ingredient made from beef — were ineffective.
The week of March 19 brought a flood of announcements from food retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores, Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu, Ahold USA and Delhaize America.