3 04 2012

It seems like not a month goes by without a company or organization getting into trouble thanks to social media. Let’s face it, we are paddling treacherous waters. Citizen journalism has given the microphone and printing press of the Fourth Estate to everyone with a smartphone.

And all we can do is pray that we don’t get a surprise boot to the rear. because if we do, it’s already too late for damage control.

Case in point: the beef industry and pink slime.

Earlier today I was interviewed by the Amarillo Globe-News about what has gone down in the last month over the beef filler that is otherwise known as Lean, Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). In the last week, three plants around the US have closed (650 jobs), and yesterday, AFA Foods filed for bankruptcy citing the pink slime scandal as having driven its sales south.

Prior to 1994, these beef scraps were used as pet food. But a method of disinfecting the beef was developed, as was the method of spinning it in a centrifuge to separate fat from lean meat. The USDA approved it for processing foods fit for human consumption. About a decade later, a Dr. Gerald Zirnstein coined the term “pink slime,” but it did not surface from internal documents until the New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009, from whence the term slowly entered the lexicon.

Fast-forward to March 2012, and ABC News did a report on it. This quickly raised the ire of pop culture foodie icon Jaime Oliver.

And that was all it took. The social graph was instantly abuzz with viral pink slime. All major media outlets picked it up. And suddenly boycotts were launched. Mass hysteria ensued. School lunch programs instantly came under scrutiny. And retailers like Kroger and Safeway sought to right their own sinking ships by selling “Pink-Slime-Free” beef.

never mind that the beef industry has assured us that it’s all OK. After all, it is beef. It’s just that you could te3chnically toss a tail or hoof into the grinder and still call it beef. But people aren’t buying.

So what went wrong?

Simple. The industry was guilty of not providing full disclosure of its fillers, and not being transparent with its consuming public. Hiding behind the banner of “100% Beef” is a bit of misnomer when you consider that less than two decades ago we would have been feeding the very same stuff to our pets. Sure, there would have been some risk had the industry told us all back then that they were mixing in scraps of this nature. But that risk is far less than the damage that was inflicted by not saying anything.

The big takeaway from this fiasco is that all companies and organizations must be transparent in all things, and provide absolutely complete disclosure of everything in its foods or the processing thereof. Because once people find out you’ve been holding back, the big boot of citizen journalism will make a dent in your back side.

Sure, the beef industry will recover. This is not about avoiding beef in general. It is about the processors and retailers coming clean. Sure, we might have been upset when Lowe’s pulled its ads from All-American Muslim, or when Susan G. Komen pulled (and later returned) its funding to Planned Parenthood. You see, there’s a big difference. Beef is something you put in your mouth; the rest is just food for your brain.

And if we think too long about putting pink slime in our mouths, the gross-out factor is going to rule the day.

The beef industry could have avoided this had it not worked so hard to keep this little dirty secret. It matters not that no laws were broken. It doesn’s make a bit of difference that the little puff of ammonia used to disinfect the meat is harmless. The USDA can approve this stuff until the cows come home, but it ain’t gonna make a difference.

Because pink slime is gross.

And never midn the fact that there was delicious irony in that the AGN interviewed a vegetarian about the matter. My responses were not about avoiding meat in general, or stirring the PETA troops to action (for the record, I adamantly oppose PETA’s efforts). No, this was all about companies and organizations baring their souls for all to see. because in this era of citizen journalism, you will be found out. And once you are, you’re going to have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. You owe it to your customers and constituents to tell the truth before the truth sets you back a few notches.

Dr “And That’s My Beef” Gerlich



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