The public relations disaster now known as lean finely textured beef (LFTB) has settled down and the fallout is easier to discern. The cattle market and beef demand took a sizable hit, erasing millions of dollars in the process, most of which will be short term in nature. However, the accumulative effects of these types of scares on beef demand are real, tangible and long term.
Beef Products, Inc., makers of LFTB, was forced to lay off more than 600 workers and close three of the four plants – Waterloo, IA, Amarillo, TX, and Garden City, KS – that produce the product (see “BPI To Shut Three Of Four Plants; Kill 650 Jobs”). The unions and food safety workers who saw the LFTB issue as an opportunity to exploit are now facing fewer jobs and less opportunity.
While overall beef demand was hurt enough to lower prices in the short term, the long-term implication is less value per carcass for producers, more cattle imports to make up the shortfall in lean, and probably a less healthy product.
Once again, good science was trumped by hype. The anti-meat, anti-corporate, local food groups are heralding this as a great victory. For them, it probably was. However, their victory means consumers will simply be paying more, and our industry will shrink a little more as a result.