Speaking at the American Meat Institute (AMI) Expo in Dallas this week, Janet Riley, senior vice-president of public affairs, said the level of media coverage given to the production of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) was disproportionate.
“When you look at that much coverage, its the kind of coverage that’s reserved for a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina or a war, but a war was waged on this product.”
The industry now needs to take steps to redress the misconceptions around the product. Jim Dickson, from the department of animal science at Iowa State university, said a lot of it stemmed from consumer ignorance, highlighting the fact a lot of consumers did not realise why the industry chills beef carcases.
He said the process was about improving food safety and highlighted a study by Arkansas University, which found that LFTB, when added to ground beef, actually improved the products taste and texture and reduced spoilage.
He said the issue surrounding the use of ammonia hydroxide was also misunderstood, and the process was defined by the USDA as being of no risk to human health.
Lawyer Robert Hibbert said a big issue in this case was the increasing prevalence of bloggers and social media. He said the traditional screening process carried out by the media was not applied in that process and fact-checking was limited.
Dickson added that the industry needed to get better at talking about its processes. “If you say, ‘You know what, we’re doing this process to make your food safer’, I cannot see people having a problem with that. We need to do a better job at selling what we do.”
The ‘pink slime’ controversy could have cost the US meat industry US$150m so far, delegates to the AMI Expo were told. Dr Howard Doane said the value of the sector had fallen US$150m since 1 March compared with the same period last year. And he said further discoveries of BSE cases were likely to add to economic woes in the sector.
He said the association of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) with the term ‘pink slime’ by the media was hugely damaging, adding that image often overrode logic and it did not matter whether LFTB was safe and improved beef products, consumers rejected the concept of ‘pink slime’.
He highlighted the emergence of swine flu, pointing out that, while it had nothing to do with pigs, pork sales in the US were depressed.