A controversial meat byproduct used in the United States as an additive has been reclassified, clearing the way for it to be marketed as simply ground beef.
Australian exporters are closely watching consumer reaction in what is its largest manufacturing beef market, with the fear being it could have an impact on imported product used to meet the enormous US hamburger mince demand.
The product, lean finely textured beef, is made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Incorporated, a major supplier to fast food chains.
International media reported the United States Department of Agriculture, which has approved LFTB as a safe component of ground beef for more than a decade, made the reclassification just before Christmas after a lengthy review process.
The USDA’s website explains LFTB is the result of removing fat from beef trimmings using ammonium hydroxide, which also has some degree of antimicrobial effect.
The USDA says ammonium hydroxide also is used in a variety of other processed foods, such as baked goods, gelatins and puddings, and cheeses, and can occur naturally in foods.
However, consumer backlash following the ‘pink slime’ media reports in 2012 on the process used to make LFTB led to some companies moving away from offering ground beef containing the product and a media defamation case which was settled out of court.
BPI has long argued it’s product was simply ground beef.
In US media reports announcing the reclassification, BPI said the product has the potential to reduce the number of cattle required to meet global beef consumption.
Rabobank’s senior analyst animal proteins Angus Gidley-Baird said the development was of strong interest to Australia’s beef industry.
“The US has the ability to take very fat trimmings and create a much leaner product that can now be labelled ground beef, which has the potential to compete with our trade,” he said.
Rabobank’s US beef experts were closely monitoring forecasts of volumes of production and consumer perceptions, Mr Gidley-Baird said.
Even if scientifically it’s considered an equal product, it would be consumer reaction that determined the willingness of companies to utilise the product, he said.
Meanwhile, the USDA’s latest forecast on beef retail prices was pointing to a lift, Mr Gidley-Baird reported.
“Prime cuts are performing well in the US, in response to the improved economy, although mince is not doing as well given the competition from pork and poultry,” he said.