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The Chapter 11 effect of ‘pink slime’

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Kai Ryssdal: “Pink slime” has claimed its first corporate victim. AFA Foods, one of the biggest ground beef processors in the country, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today. The company blamed recent media attention over what the industry prefers to call lean, finely textured beef.

Sarah Gardner has more on the bankruptcy and this fast-moving food fight.

Sarah Gardner: AFA Foods admits it was struggling before ‘pink slime’ became a household word, but it says sales of all its beef products fell sharply amid the controversy and forced it to file for bankruptcy. The move comes just days after industry giant BPI suspended operations at three of its plants.

Noted food author Marion Nestle.

Marion Nestle: What’s really happening is that it has come at a time when the beef industry is in trouble, mainly because of the economy. People don’t buy as much beef when they don’t have any money.

Many food experts agree so-called “pink slime” is safe. The beef-based filler is purified with ammonia gas and used to make ground beef.

But safety’s not the point, says food industry analyst Phil Lempert. Ammonia-treated beef parts? It’s the “ick” factor.

Phil Lempert: Consumers just don’t want this as part of our food supply.

The controversy started less than a month ago with a story on ABC News and quickly went viral — a PR nightmare for the beef industry, a godsend to anti-meat activists and late night comedians.

Jon Stewart: You told me you were all beef! You’re filled with some pink slime ammonia goop! That is the last thing I want mixed up in my mulched-up cow corpse.

The American Meat Institute today said it was “infuriating” that anyone would lose their job over a product that “has been given an unfair, catchy nickname that misleads consumers.” But Phil Lempert sees one potential winner out of the controversy: the grocery store butcher. He predicts some shoppers will now want to pick out their own beef from the meat case and have it ground up in front of them.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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