Ground beef is packaged and on sale at the King Soopers supermarket in Lakewood, Colorado on June 20, 2012. UPI/Gary C. Caskey | License Photo
WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- More than two years after a media firestorm had restaurants and meat producers running from even the slightest association with so-called "pink slime," and roughly a year since pink slime makers filed a defamation suit against newsmakers, the mystery meat product is apparently making its way back into an array of meat products.
The brightly colored meat product known as pink slime isn't actually a mystery. It's beef -- really finely ground beef. But mystery or not, its gooey, brightly colored appearance gave many the willies. The moniker certainly didn't help.
But the hoopla eventually died down, and now meat makers say they're producing large amounts of pink slime once again. The reason: necessity.
A severe drought across the Western U.S. -- as well as a number of other relevant market and environmental factors -- have pushed beef prices to $4 a pound, up from $2.25 in 2010. High prices make a cheap filler like pink slime popular.
Still, the 2012 backlash remains in the back of the minds of many meat producers and grocery store owners.
"Ultimately what happened is consumers contacted retailers," explained Cargill spokesman Mike Martin. "So by the end of March 2012, Cargill's finely textured beef had incurred an 80 percent decrease in volume."
As Martin told NPR, pink slime is just lean beef trimmings treated with citric acid to kill bacteria. But it turned people off, and Cargill and others paid dearly.
"We ultimately were forced to close down two of the production sites out of the five we had operating that produced finely textured beef," he said.
Sellers like Kroger and Supervalu still refuse to carry any products that contain pink slime. Others aren't so picky.
"Two years ago, no one would return our calls," an unnamed executive with Beef Products Inc. told the Wall Street Journal. "Now some of those same people are calling us unsolicited, and we don't have the sales staff to maintain the new business."