It was a bad, bad week for the beef industry, as two sensational and negative headlines competed for national attention. The first regarded the “pink slime” that is added by some processors to ground beef. The second revolved around a Harvard population study concluding a connection between consumption of red meat and a shorter lifespan. Let’s take them one at a time.
The sensational term of pink slime is actually a reference to boneless lean beef trimmings, a USDA-approved product to which at least one ground beef supplier was using small treatments of food-grade ammonium hydroxide gas, something commonly used in the production of many foods, as a safety measure. Of course, the science doesn’t matter; after all, what we have here is a foreign-sounding additive being added by big, bad, greedy food producers/processors.
Never mind that the result is a leaner product that reduces cost to consumers, or that it was done tofacilitate a healthier and safer product. All that was needed was the incendiary phrase “pink slime” and a couple of letters off of a periodic chart to create a media frenzy.
Meanwhile, the study that drew a connection between red meat and premature death carried the extra swagger of being a Harvard population study. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned to hate these population studies. They never find a causal relationship, just a perceived relationship.
Nobody seems to care about the flaws in the study; it’s akin to saying that guys in red sport cars are more inclined to get a divorce than guys in white sedans. It may be true, and it may not be true. But, if it is true, it likely says more about the guys who drive red sport cars or white sedans than it does about the cars themselves.
My biggest gripe with these population studies is that they’re designed and funded almost exclusively with the goal of finding a link between whatever ailment and red meat. The debunking of this study and its conclusions has been well done, but the headlines still blared on America’s newspapers, broadcasts and blogosphere, with the result being that millions of moms will undoubtedly have that message running through their heads the next time they stand at the meat counter.
Most folks won’t read the follow-ups to the original pieces; they probably didn’t even read the entire initial article. However, they will carry with them the sensational headlines that confirm the common assessment that red meat is bad for you.
Sadly, my email this week was full of these headlines. I say sadly because most of them came from within our industry – from people who feel they can benefit by tearing down our mainstream product.
Instead of spending so much time explaining why these headlines are inaccurate, we need to spend some time creating some headlines that are both accurate and positive.