TIME Food

The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back

Beef to Tomato Send July 4 Food Cost to Record
Ground beef is portioned onto trays at a supermarket meat department, July 2, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It has something to do with the weather

The attention was damning. In 2012, ABC News ran an 11-segment investigation on a low-cost meat product critics called “pink slime,” a moniker coined by a former USDA employee who argued the filler wasn’t really beef.

In an attempt to steer the public away from it, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “recreated” it on his TV show by throwing beef scraps into a washing machine and dousing the results with ammonia. Soon, social media feeds were blanketed with photos supposedly of the product that made the meat look like soft-serve strawberry ice cream.

The backlash was intense. Though the USDA considers the product safe for human consumption, fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell publicly renounced it and public schools around the country stopped serving it for lunch. By May 2012, Beef Products, Inc,, the South Dakota-based inventor of the product, was on the brink of collapse—closing three of its four plants and laying off 700 employees.

What a difference two years makes.

On Aug. 18, BPI reopened one of its shuttered plants. While production is nowhere near pre-freak-out levels, when the product BPI calls “lean finely textured beef” was estimated to be in 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S., the company has been gradually regaining business. The reason is the same one that made finely textured beef successful in the first place: it’s cheap. And lower costs are particularly attractive to processors facing record high prices for ground beef. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average price of ground beef in June was $3.88, up 14% from last year.

For that, you can thank the sustained drought that has gripped much of the American West and Great Plains, including cattle producing regions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

“The main issue is the drought,” says Dan Hale, an animal science professor at Texas A&M University. “A lot of the U.S., especially parts that raise cattle, have experienced a severe drought. And those animals are no longer available for producing calves that we can in turn generate for beef trimmings.”

In the summer of 2012, more than 50% of the country was considered in moderate or extreme drought. Those conditions forced ranchers to rush cows to slaughter, which led to fewer calves in the following years and lower head of cattle overall. Meanwhile, demand for beef kept rising, pushing prices higher along with it. With supply down, prices up and memories of the “pink slime” moment fading, the market for finely textured beef is growing again.

BPI makes its product by spinning discarded beef scraps in a centrifuge to separate the lean, edible trimmings and then treating the result with ammonium hydroxide meant to kill food-borne pathogens like E. coli. Processors blend it with other cuts as a cost-saving measure and the product can account for as much as 10% of the meat in a package of ground beef.

“If you can utilize more of the animal, that helps mitigate some of the low supply numbers,” says Lee Schulz, an agricultural economics professor at Iowa State University.

BPI remains embroiled in a a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News over the network’s coverage of its product. The company is now producing close to 1 million lbs. a week. of lean finely textured beef—down from nearly 5.5 million lbs in 2012. But BPI is optimistic that the worst days are behind it. The newly opened Kansas plant will work with global meat processor Tyson Foods, collecting its raw beef trimmings and shipping them to a BPI facility in Nebraska that will process the scraps into profit.

“BPI continues to experience growth and remains confident this growth will continue,” Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food quality and food safety, said in a statement. “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

TIME Business

Knees Need a Defender: There’s No Excuse for Leaning Back on an Airplane

Passenger With His Knees Against a Sleeping Businessman's Chair on an Aeroplane
Digital Vision/Getty Images

'If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you'

Nobody over six feet tall is surprised that a couple of passengers got into a fight on a United flight from Newark to Denver over the use of a gadget called Knee Defender — two small, wedge-like devices that prevent the seat in front of you from reclining. The passenger using the device, a guy seated in a middle row, refused to remove it when the woman seated in front of him tried to recline. Words were exchanged; then a cup of water was hurled aft. The flight was diverted to Chicago, and the two were removed.

Me, I’m with Knee Defender guy.

I don’t travel with a Knee Defender, but I do travel with knees. Just being an airline passengers makes everyone cranky to begin with. Being 6 ft. 2 in. and long of leg, I’m in a near rage by the time I wedge myself into a coach seat. And now you want to jam your chair back into my knees for four hours? Go fly a kite. It’s an airline seat, not a lounge chair. You want comfort, buy a business class seat. What’s surprising is that there haven’t been more fights over Knee Defender. Or perhaps these incidents haven’t been reported. I’ve gotten into it a few times with people in front of me who insist that the space over my knees is theirs, as if they have some kind of air rights. And I’m sure I will again.

United says it has a no Knee Defender policy, although the device is allowable on other carriers. My own knee defense is this: As soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and people are free to annoy me, I wedge my knees against the seat in front of me. Any attempted move back is met with resistance. (Very good exercise, too.) At first, the person in front thinks there’s something wrong with his chair and tries again, meeting like resistance. Then there’s that backward glance, and the dirty look. I smile and say: “Sorry, those are my knees. And I’m not moving them.” Secretly I am saying, “If you try to move that seat back again I’m going over the top of your chair and strangling you.” Did I mention that flying is infuriating?

This has led to some very unfriendly exchanges on the friendly skies of United and elsewhere. And should my adversary, during an unguarded moment, manage to intrude into my space, there’s always the opportunity to resort to 8-year-old mode, accidentally kicking the chair every once in a while. If I’m not going to be comfortable, you’re not.

Yes, it’s not the most civil behavior, but United and other airlines brought this about by treating us like cargo. Consider the situation on Flight 1462. United runs 737s, among the smallest in the Boeing fleet, out of Newark to distant places. It’s four hours to Denver from Newark. The coach seats are 17.3 inches wide. The pitch is 31 inches in Economy and 34 inches in the so-called Economy Plus, where the dueling pair was sitting. Economy Plus used to be called by another name, Economy, until the carriers started adding rows and squeezing the space. This fight started because the guy was trying to work on his laptop. You can’t use a laptop when the seat in front of you is in your lap. And it’s only getting worse when you realize that the proportion of flights longer than two hours that now use commuter jets is growing.

Personally, my policy is to not recline, even if the seat does. I’m trying to respect the space of the passenger behind me. So please respect mine, or be prepared for a bumpy ride.

TIME Music

Burning Man Reopens After Rain Delays Festival

A man looks at the Burning Man effigy as it is prepared for the Burning Man Festival at Black Rock City in Nevada on Aug. 29, 2000.
A man looks at the Burning Man effigy as it is prepared for the Burning Man Festival at Black Rock City in Nevada on Aug. 29, 2000. Hector Mata—AFP/Getty Images

Inclement weather had threatened to douse the famous desert "burn"

Hippies and tech moguls alike will finally be able to get into Burning Man Tuesday after rain delayed the festival’s opening.

While Burning Man’s official Twitter had warned attempted revelers that cops were turning away cars Monday due to inclement weather, it announced that the festival’s Reno gates would reopen Tuesday at 6 a.m. local time.

Hundreds of stranded travelers took refuge in casinos or the local Wal-Mart parking lot, undeterred by the damp start to the desert event. “It’s the best festival in the world,” Jeff Cross told the AP Monday night when he was unloading provisions from his RV parked outside of Wal-Mart. “And there’s no cellphones, no internet, no money or corporate sponsors.”

Although that’s not the case for all Burning Man goers. Nick Bilton at the New York Times recently reported on the growing trend of a Silicon Valley elite infiltrating the egalitarian, counter-culture scene, in air-conditioned and wifi-equipped RVs.

The rain didn’t extinguish the Burning Man spirit for waylaid travelers camping at Pyramid Lake, the Reno Gazette-Journal reports. Dozens had to be told by local rangers that they had to keep their clothes on as they waited. “How can you not know that it is not OK to be naked in public?” one ranger said.

Such behavior is acceptable at Burning Man, which will run through Sept. 1.

TIME Transportation

This $22 Anti-Seat Reclining Device Diverted an Entire Flight

Ugly dispute broke out after passenger refused to stop using "Knee Defender"

Apart from screw cap wine, it seems like passengers’ only respite on a long flight is the ability to recline their seat a few treasured inches.

And so, when a passenger on a United Airlines flight Sunday refused to stop using his Knee Defender — a $21.95 device that attaches to a tray table and prevents the seat in front from reclining — a brawl broke out that diverted the flight.

A law enforcement official told the AP that the dispute began after a man in the 12th row of United Airlines flight 1462 from Newark, N.J. to Denver, Colo. refused a flight attendant’s request that he disable the prohibited device. The woman with the obstructed seat then reportedly turned around and threw water in his face.

The flight crew then decided to divert the flight to Chicago’s O’Hare airport to escort both passengers off the plane. The flight landed an hour and 38 minutes late.

While no arrests were made, the FAA could impose a $25,000 civil fine to unruly passengers.

[AP]

TIME

4 Dead in Plane Crash Near Cleveland

(RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio) — A small plane crashed and burst into flames just after takeoff from a regional airport outside of Cleveland, killing all four people on board, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The Cessna 172R crashed at about 10 p.m. Monday after taking off from the Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH’-guh) County Airport in Richmond Heights, about 15 miles northeast of Cleveland, the patrol said.

The patrol says the plane began its ascent, then crashed outside the airport and burst into flames. The occupants were trapped in the wreckage and died at the scene.

Mark Gerald, 45, said he was sitting on his front porch when the plane crashed nearby. He said he could hear the plane struggling, but didn’t see it until hit the ground.

Gerald told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that he and neighbors ran toward the plane hoping they could help, but it exploded as they approached.

“We thought we had (a chance to help them). It was too hot,” he said. “The whole fuselage was involved.”

William Honaker, 18, said he was driving nearby when he saw a “ball of light” and realized it was the plane on fire.

Honaker said he also tried to approach the plane, but onlookers warned him to stay away because of the intense fire.

“(The plane) was so mangled,” Honaker said. “I didn’t want to look at it anymore, to be honest.”

It was not immediately known where the plane was headed. The names of those on board have not been released.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board asked local authorities to secure the scene for their investigators.

TIME Food & Drink

The California Quake May Cost Wine Country Billions

On the other hand, it could have been much worse

+ READ ARTICLE

Financial damage from the earthquake that rattled California’s Napa Valley on Sunday may barrel from hundreds of millions of dollars of immediate property damage to billions in total economic losses, Reuters reports.

On top of more than 200 people injured, around 50 buildings in the city of Napa — the famed wine region’s economic hub — were deemed unsafe to enter following the 6.0-magnitude quake. The temblor was the fiercest to hit the state’s Bay Area in 25 years, Reuters says.

Disaster-modeling firm CoreLogic estimated that the total insured economic losses to the region could range from $500 million to $1 billion; but as only 6% of local homes are estimated to have earthquake coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York City, the total bill is likely to be much higher.

While Napa’s 2014 vintage is still slated for great things, a large amount of stock was destroyed by the quake. “It’s a big mess right now,” Rick Ruiz, operations director for the wine retailer TwentyFour Wines, told Reuters. “It’s a logistical nightmare.”

However, wine buffs need not totally despair, as the timing of the quake was in fact somewhat fortuitous — coming after the 2013 vintage had been dispatched for delivery but before most of the current year’s grape harvest was picked.

[Reuters]

TIME legal

Airbnb Hands Over Data on 124 Hosts in New York City to the Authorities

Airbnb'S Value Estimated At $10 Billion After New Round Of Investments
The Airbnb app is displayed on a smartphone on April 21, 2014 in San Anselmo, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The New York attorney general is seeking those who “flagrantly" misused the online platform

Airbnb has announced that it is handing over the personal information of 124 past and present hosts to the New York attorney general.

The online accommodation company said on Friday that the vast majority of the hosts were no longer on its site and the total is “far less than 1%” of its hosting community in the Big Apple.

“Nothing about these hosting profiles suggests [the attorney general] is after anyone but individuals who may be flagrantly misusing our platform,” said David Hantman, head of global policy for Airbnb, in a blog post on Friday.

The New York City battle for user information began last year. Attorney general Eric Schneiderman sent the first subpoena in October, requesting data on Airbnb’s hosts for the previous three years. Airbnb resisted but also reiterated its commitment to cooperate with authorities and eliminate illegal hotels and guesthouses. The San Francisco–based company then wiped out more than 2,000 listings in April.

The recent release of personal data followed the New York attorney general’s second subpoena for hosts’ information in May. Airbnb agreed to hand over “anonymized data” for about 16,000 hosts in New York. The office of the attorney general would then have a year to review the information and draft a list of individuals who are subject to further investigation. This means it’s possible that additional requests for user information are made in the months to come.

Airbnb says it has already contacted the 124 hosts concerned about the matter.

TIME Veterans

Report: No Proof Veterans Died Because of Delays

Veterans Health Care
The VA Health Care Center in Phoenix on April 28, 2014 Ross D. Franklin—AP

The VA's Office of Inspector General has been investigating the delays for months and shared a draft report of its findings with VA officials

(WASHINGTON) — The Veterans Affairs Department says investigators have found no proof that delays in care caused any deaths at a VA hospital in Phoenix, deflating an explosive allegation that helped expose a troubled health care system in which veterans waited months for appointments while employees falsified records to cover up the delays.

Revelations that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA hospital rocked the agency last spring, bringing to light scheduling problems and allegations of misconduct at other hospitals as well. The scandal led to the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. In July, Congress approved spending an additional $16 billion to help shore up the system.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General has been investigating the delays for months and shared a draft report of its findings with VA officials.

In a written memorandum about the report, VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said, “It is important to note that while OIG’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality-of-care concerns, OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”

The inspector general’s final report has not yet been issued. The inspector general runs an independent office within the VA.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson confirmed the findings in an interview with The Associated Press. Gibson, however, stressed that veterans were still waiting too long for care, an issue the agency was working to fix.

“They looked to see if there was any causal relationship associated with the delay in care and the death of these veterans and they were unable to find one. But from my perspective, that don’t make it OK,” Gibson said. “Veterans were waiting too long for care and there were things being done, there were scheduling improprieties happening at Phoenix and frankly at other locations as well. Those are unacceptable.”

In April, Dr. Samuel Foote, who had worked for the Phoenix VA for more than 20 years before retiring in December, brought the allegations to Congress.

Foote accused Arizona VA leaders of collecting bonuses for reducing patient wait times. But, he said, the purported successes resulted from data manipulation rather than improved service for veterans. He said up to 40 patients died while awaiting care.

In May, the inspector general’s office found that 1,700 veterans were waiting for primary care appointments at the Phoenix VA but did not show up on the wait list. “Until that happens, the reported wait times for these veterans has not started,” said a report issued in May.

Gibson said the VA reached out to all 1,700 veterans in Phoenix and scheduled care for them. However, he acknowledged there are still 1,800 veterans in Phoenix who requested appointments but will have to wait at least 90 days for care.

The VA has said it was firing three executives of the Phoenix VA hospital. The agency has also said it planned to fire two supervisors and discipline four other employees in Colorado and Wyoming accused of falsifying health care data.

Gibson said he expected the list of disciplined employees to grow. He took over as acting VA secretary when Shinseki resigned and returned to his job as deputy secretary after McDonald was confirmed.

“The fundamental point here is, we are taking bold and decisive action to fix these problems because it’s unacceptable,” Gibson said. “We owe veterans, we owe the American people, an apology. We’ve delivered that apology. We’ll keep delivering that apology for our failure to meet their expectations for timely and effective health care.”

To help reduce backlogs, the VA is sending more veterans to private doctors for care.

Congress approved $10 billion in emergency spending over three years to pay private doctors and other health professionals to care for veterans who can’t get timely appointments at VA medical facilities, or who live more than 40 miles from one.

The new law includes $5 billion for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country.

The legislation also makes it easier to fire hospital administrators and senior VA executives for negligence or poor performance.

TIME Vermont

Former FBI Director Freeh Injured in Car Crash

The cause of the crash is still under investigation

(BARNARD, Vt.) — Former FBI director Louis Freeh was airlifted to a hospital Monday after a single-car crash in Vermont, authorities said.

State police said Freeh was taken by helicopter to a New Hampshire hospital with serious injuries following the crash in Barnard, a small town about 90 miles northwest of Boston.

Freeh’s name was not on a list for which patient information was available, according to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Freeh apparently drove his SUV off the road shortly after midday and struck a mailbox and row of shrubs before coming to a stop on the side of a tree, state police said. He was wearing his seatbelt.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, police said. No one else was hurt.

Freeh, 64, is a former federal judge who led the FBI from 1993 to 2001. More recently, he was hired by Penn State to examine the handling of child sex abuse complaints involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and conducted a review of the financial settlement program for Gulf Coast residents affected by the BP oil spill.

TIME

Kill Switches on Smartphones Now Mandatory in California

Smart Phone Kill Switch
State Sen. Anthony Canella, R-Ceres, uses his smart phone at the Capitol Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. Cannella joined fellow lawmakers in approving a measure, SB962 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, requiring all new smart phones come equipped with a "kill switch," that disables the device if lost or stolen. The bill was signed on Aug. 25 by Governor Jerry Brown. Rich Pedroncelli — AP

On Monday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that is the first of its kind in the nation

Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET

California Governor Jerry Brown signed historic legislation Monday, mandating that every smartphone sold in California after July 1, 2015, be equipped by default with a kill switch, a feature that can render the device useless if stolen.

Proposed by state senator Mark Leno and endorsed by a bevy of law-enforcement officials, the new law — the first of its kind in the nation — is designed to curb cell-phone theft in cities like San Francisco, where more than 65% of all robberies involve stolen phones, or Oakland, where it’s 75%.

“California has just put smartphone thieves on notice,” Leno said in a statement. “Starting next year, all smartphones sold in California, and most likely every other state in the union, will come equipped with theft deterrent technology when they purchase new phones. Our efforts will effectively wipe out the incentive to steal smartphones and curb this crime of convenience, which is fueling street crime and violence within our communities.”

Leno, a San Francisco–area Democrat, and other proponents of the kill switch have argued that if manufacturers are obliged to make these changes for the most populous state in the nation, they’re more likely to alter all devices, in anticipation of similar legislation in other states.

Many of the biggest telecommunication companies, such as Apple, Google and Samsung, agreed earlier this year to voluntarily add kill-switch capability on phones after July 1 of next year. However, the companies did not agree to enable the kill switch by default, so much as make it available as a feature. “The bill requires theft-deterrent technology to come standard on all smartphones sold in California, a departure from the status quo where consumers are required to seek out and enable the technology,” Leno’s office said.

The law will apply to all phones sold to consumers online or in physical stores in California, regardless of where the phones are manufactured. The law does not specify exactly how manufacturers must implement the kill switch, though it must allow a phone owner to remotely “brick” their phone and erase data, as well as turn the phone back on if it should be misplaced instead of stolen.

Officials like Leno have said they’re more interested in seeing the system implemented than dictating precisely how it works.

San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, also a proponent of the bill, previously asserted that carriers and manufacturers were reluctant to install the switches because it could encroach on the lucrative $7 billion phone-insurance market. A wireless association that represents major carriers like AT&T and Sprint, known as CTIA, has said hesitance was due to security concerns, like the potential for phones to be killed by hackers.

On Monday, CTIA said in a statement that their members have already gone to great lengths to protect smartphone users, citing actions like the voluntary agreement made earlier this year, as well as education campaigns. And the association insinuated that such mandated changes may yield costs that are passed onto wireless consumers.

“Today’s action was unnecessary given the breadth of action the industry has taken,” said CTIA vice president Jamie Hastings. “Uniformity in the wireless industry created tremendous benefits for wireless consumers, including lower costs and phenomenal innovation. State-by-state technology mandates, such as this one, stifle those benefits and are detrimental to wireless consumers.”

Advocates like Gascón, however, believe that this is a first step toward a new kind of uniformity. “This epidemic has impacted millions across the nation and millions more around the globe,” he said. “But today we turn the page,” he said in a statement. “Seldom can a public safety crisis be addressed by a technological solution, but today wireless consumers everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,199 other followers