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The Beef Angle

Could LFTB Make a Comeback?

A new report suggests demand for lean, finely-textured beef could recover, because trim is "too valuable to be lost."

Earlier this year the media created a furor over lean beef trimmings, fomenting a scandal that would seemingly forever tar an important beef product as "pink slime." In the aftermath of the lean, finely-textured beef debacle, a group of researchers at Rabobank predict LFTB could indeed play an important role in the beef market once again.

As the U.S. rapidly enters a period of the tightest beef supplies in modern history, researchers at Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group predict the portion of U.S. beef supply that was made up of LFTB will, following necessary industry changes, return to the U.S. food supply. The group cites the industry’s intolerance of wasting the valuable product as the primary reason for the return.

"In the tight U.S. beef market, beef processors consider 2% of the beef supply as simply too much to waste,” noted report author Don Close, Rabobank's Vice President for Animal Protein in the Food and Agribusiness Research & Advisory. "Lower production levels, due in part to drought in the U.S., and increased global export demands are contributing to the tight market."

Consider the impact the drought is having on the industry at the moment... Decimated pastures, early feeding of stock-piled forages, higher feed ingredient costs; the importance of garnering every cent of value from a carcass has likely never been more important.

The report estimates that LFTB production is currently as less than 25% capacity due to the media-driven outrage over the product earlier this year. Close said while it's too early to predict exactly what will happen, there will be an opportunity for producers and processors to reevaluate and reassert the merits of LFTB as a safe, lean beef protein.

Among the precursors necessary for the products reintroduction, Rabobank says greater label transparency will be critical. Reformulation of the product will also be a must, as consumers were most concerned, it appears, with the concerns associated with a mindset that their hamburger had been treated with common household cleaners.

In other words, no more using ammonium hydroxide as an antimicrobial. Citric acid, or perhaps some other treatment with less of an "ick factor," will be utilized in the future.

While the details are yet to be seen, and the devil is often in the details, it appears there may be a small silver lining in the great drought of 2012: it could prompt consumers to reconsider their condemnation of LFTB. After all, beef is beef, right?

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