Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Bismark & Pink Slime


This article was originally featured in the May issue of Food In Canada magazine.

If you spend any time interacting with government or the meat industry, you will inevitably hear the expression, "There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation." Attributed to Otto von Bismark (1815-1898), a chancellor in Germany, the analogy of sausage making and lawmaking has had a remarkably long run. Recent concerns over so-called pink slime make Bismark’s comment as relevant today – and there’s a lesson in that for Canada’s food processors.

“Today’s public wants to know what goes into both their sausages and laws. However, while laws govern, sausage is digested, the relationship with food is much more complex than in the 19th century, as is consumer access to information. The link between law and meat processing in today’s society means that there is a direct relationship impacting governance and consumer trust in a responsible supply chain, with traceability and track ability protocols,” says Andrew Raphael, Director of Food & Ag Processing for MNP, one of Canada’s largest chartered accountancy and consulting firms.

Raphael goes on to explain that the link in the chain has never been more important as today’s consumers want to know what is in their food, how it is made and where it comes from.

From Finely Textured Beef to Pink Slime

So what about the recent concerns of consumers who are worried about what is in their hamburgers? The industry refers to “finely textured beef", but when the media calls it “pink slime” and consumers digest and accept this phrase, Bismark’s claim that politics and meat processing are not to be trusted is reinforced.

“The meat industry cannot afford this perception, which tends to feed on itself and takes on a life of its own, spurred on by instant internet experts whose accusations are considered facts by uninformed consumers,” says Raphael. “Politics may be an art, but following strict, transparent protocols for food safety is a science that needs to be better communicated to customers.”

To set the record straight, "pink slime" is not unsafe, even in the eyes of some staunch food safety advocates .The facts are that cattle tissue and excess fat is collected, treated, and then sprayed with ammonia to kill any bacteria. It is lean beef, though beef that may have an unappetizing history. It starts life as slaughterhouse trimmings, which were once relegated to pet food and cooking oil. Before last month, few outside the meat industry and government knew that one of our favorite foods was laced with something once destined for dog chow. This lack of disclosure — plus the power of an evocative name — make the story of pink slime and Bismark’s analogy relevant today.

“In this information age, it is not enough for food processors to be right about the safety of their products. It is essential that they communicate and be ready to defend, at a gut level, the reasons for their processing techniques,” says Raphael. “Processors can call food processing practices whatever they want, but consumer trust can be easily broken at an emotional level even if the science can be defended.” As Bill Marler, a prominent food safety lawyer has stated, “Pink Slime is not a health issue. This is an 'I'm grossed out by this' issue.”

Finley textured beef is not harmful nor is it against the law , but it does hearken back to Bismark’s linking non-transparence and lack of communication to those who are responsible for protecting and educating the public about the food they eat—politicians and food processors.

Raphael puts it this way: “If processors are not proactive and transparent in explaining their processing protocols, then the malicious or the well-intentioned but misinformed will fill this information void and frame the discussion based on unfounded emotional accusations. “

Bismark has been at rest for more than a century; his analogy ought to be laid to rest also.

Andrew J. Raphael, MA Planning, is the Director of Food & Ag Processing at MNP. For more information on what MNP can do for you, contact Andrew at 1.877.688.8408 or [email protected]

Follow MNP Food & Ag Processing on Twitter