PERCEPTION OF MEAT PRODUCTS NOT BASED ON FACTS

by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Part 2

It seems that every few weeks another news story hits the national headlines concerning our food supply. Beef seems to be the target of these reports more often than not and once again our industry has to deal with the negative information generated by the media. Over the last couple of weeks there have been a couple of these incidences. No doubt you have heard all the hoopla in the news media about "Pink Slime," a very poorly worded nickname for a safe, commonly used beef product. We also know that the information generated by the media has been inaccurate but because of the way this story has been reported and misconstrued the typical consumer does not have the facts and are responding in a negative manner to grocery stores and other meat retailers. This is resulting in these businesses changing their ground beef buying to exclude any ground beef product which includes this product, which, again, is perfectly safe and nutritious.

A second story was the result of a study released by Harvard University concerning the effect that beef consumption has on your risk of dying prematurely. Interestingly, as much of the media chose to report this story, the word “prematurely” was left out. Apparently this study indicated that if you add just a single serving of beef to your weekly diet that your chances of dying will increase significantly. I have news for the good folks at Harvard and in our media – there is a 100 percent chance that we are going to die at some point in time – no question! I realize this is a bit facetious but some of how this data was reported is a bit ludicrous and leave it to the media to take a story of this nature and ride it for all it's worth. Because remember, it's not about reporting accurate news, it's about selling papers or improving viewership of increasing the number of hits to your website. All so you can sell more advertising space. I've said before, I'm all for free enterprise but in this case I want accurate, insightful reporting, not sensationalism and the promotion of an agenda. If you would like to read this study first hand in its entirety it can be accessed at:

http://archinte.ama-assn.org/ cgi/content/full/archinternmed.2011.2287#AUTHINFO

The beef industry constantly has to deal with several factors surrounding these types of issues:

1) The media has a long history for handling of facts in a very biased manner. There is no intention to report the full story nor provide the various components of an issue. Fortunately or unfortunately this is not isolated only to the meat industry. Take a look at how politics or political issues are reported. Commonly we see the facts distorted significantly with the desired result being sensational, upsetting and confusing the reading or viewing public. Remember that the media is there to generate revenues for their ownership and while this is to be expected ethics would dictate that it should not be done in a manipulative manner.

2) On this line, the media takes advantage of situations like this where the average consumer is largely uninformed or uneducated. The typical consumer does not understand the meat industry as it currently exists. For instance:

a) They do not understand the need to make the best, most efficient use of all meat products.

b) They do not understand, from the processors stand point that not all meat products are of equal value and that as such, some of these products are best sold in a ground or otherwise processed form. In many cases they could or would understand this but frankly it's not all that interesting of a topic for study until it is brought to the forefront as in this case. And then in a sensational manner that is not accurate.

c) The consumer also does not necessarily understand what is involved in the processing and delivering of a safe food product, one that is, for the most part, free of bacteria that might cause health issues. The consumer has heard all the horror stories of people becoming sick and/or dying from food poisoning caused by e. coli, salmonella, listeria, etc. They want assurance that all steps are taken to eliminate the chances of these things happening. But they do not understand what these steps are.

There is an old joke that states: “anyone who enjoys sausage and respects the law should watch neither while they are being made.” This is equally true in the meat industry. In the last issue I commented that our society, in general, is now several generations off the farm. We now have large segments of our population which no longer have any connection to the farm whatsoever and subsequently have no concept of animal agriculture. They have no grasp of animal management (thus all the issues with animal rights) and no understanding of how meat products make it from the farm to their plate. This lack of understanding is expanded and confused by media handling as well as those who have agendas contrary to this industry, most notably the extreme animal rights crowd and the anti-meat groups.

Now, Back to the Ranch . . . . .

Getting back to the “Pink Slime” issue, on March 19, 2012, FEEDSTUFFS magazine published a story on the topic. FEEDSTUFFS is a very informative weekly trade newspaper that serves the feed, food and Ag industries.

Rod Smith, the author of the piece reported that the origination of this issue was with a couple of former USDA who referred to a beef product as "pink slime" in an interview on the ABC evening news program on March 7, 2012. This started a cascade of negative publicity across conventional and social media about a product that's actually healthful, nutritious, lean and safe.

The product in question, more properly referred to as lean, finely textured beef or LFTB, is produced by Beef Products Inc. in Dakota Dunes, S.D., from trim. Trim is the beef and fat that are trimmed away when line workers at packing plants cut beef into roasts, steaks and other products. The company has developed a method to separate the beef from the fat, producing a lean, low-cost beef product for ground beef, hamburger, sausage and other products. During the process, a puff of ammonium hydroxide is sprayed on the product to kill dangerous pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and salmonella. In other words, the treatment with this product is part of the process in the company's overall food safety protocol.

However, in common fashion in stories of this nature, the ABC program and a host of subsequent news stories, blogs and other postings called the product plant scraps and waste that otherwise would be destined for pet food or rendering and that are mixed with ammonia, which is used in making fertilizers, household cleaners and other industrial products. This they misidentified the product and the processing. The uproar over this story intensified when it was reported that USDA plans to procure seven million lb. of the product for incorporation into beef entrees for school lunches. Among other concurrent activities, an online petition started to circulate via Facebook "to get this slime out of our schools."

The broadcasters, newspaper reporters and others seemed to favor shock value over facts, i.e. the perceived value of sensationalized, inaccurate reporting. Several publications ran a photo of a product they claimed was LFTB but were something completely different.

Most of us have seen the story the media chose to report but what are the facts?

1) Beef Products has been recognized for years by the USDA and various consumer and food safety groups. Some of these include Nancy Donley, founder of STOP Foodborne Illness and Bill Marler, one of the country's leading plaintiff attorneys in cases related to food borne illnesses. Beef Products has been applauded for its commitment to and innovations in food safety, according to the National Meat Assn. (NMA).

2) LFTB is not scraps destined for pet food but is, rather, a federally inspected and approved beef product as reported by the NMA.

3) According to Beef Products, the LFTB is 94 percent lean beef.

4) Ammonia is naturally occurring, it is found in the human body and virtually all foods and it plays an important role in helping the body maintain a desired pH level, according to the American Meat Institute (AMI).

5) Ammonium hydroxide is ammonia and water. It is not the kind of ammonia used to make fertilizers and household cleaners, AMI said.

6) In food processing, ammonium hydroxide is recognized as safe by food safety authorities in most countries, including the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), AMI said, adding that it is used to kill pathogens in meat and other food products.

7) The compound is also used as an antimicrobial food additive in baked goods, cheeses, puddings, chocolates and other confectionary such as caramels, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF).

8) Other forms of ammonia are used in condiments, relishes, snack foods, jams and jellies and non-alcoholic beverages, IFICF said.

9) IFICF, who publishes "Food Insight," a food nutrition and safety resource, confirmed the AMI and NMA statements, noting that ammonia and ammonium hydroxide are found naturally in the environment in air, soil and water and in all plants and animals, including humans.

10) Ammonia plays an important role in protein synthesis in people, according to "Food Insight." Briefly stated, all living things need protein, which consists of some 20 different amino acids, and although plants can synthesize most amino acids, animals cannot; ammonia is, therefore, "a key player" in the body's nitrogen cycle and protein synthesis, the resource said.

11) Food Insight said the FDA approved ammonium hydroxide as safe for use in food processing in 1974 following an extensive review of the science and rule-making.

For more information, IFICF's statement is available at:

www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=Questions_and_Answers_about_Ammonium_Hydroxid_Use_in_Food_Production.

Mr. Smith went on to make the following points in the FEEDSTUFFS article. The recent ABC News television report condemned an important beef product based on what a couple of former scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said about the product. Like many reports, it was picked up by other newspapers and radio and television stations. Furthermore, it was picked up by bloggers on the internet and went viral, taking on a life of its own on Facebook and Twitter (somewhere in here it seems that the statement “the blind leading the blind would be applicable.”). One primary reason how this story ran out of control was because the scientists called the product "pink slime," which made the topic "a headline writer's dream."

Furthermore, the product is a lean, textured beef product made through a process that separates beef from fat in beef trim -- kind of like how milk is separated from cream -- and sprays the beef with a puff of ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens. The process, including the use of ammonium hydroxide, is approved as safe by USDA and the Food & Drug Administration and is inspected by the Food Safety & Inspection Service. Amazingly, getting the facts was easy and fast, taking just a few minutes on websites from trusted sources.

Conclusions

Obviously the beef industry's battle with the media and how information flows is ongoing. One of the main points to be made here is to always be careful to seek the FACTS in what you hear and read, and recognize that there are often hidden agendas at play. There are many people and groups that would like to see the beef and meat industry in general simply go away. Let's be sure we keep them from gaining that satisfaction.

Dr. Steve Blezinger is a nutritional and management consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at 667 CR 4711 Sulphur Springs, TX 75482, by phone at (903) 352-3475 or by e-mail at sblez@verizon.net. You can also follow us on Facebook at Reveille Livestock Concepts.







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