In the aftermath of the so-called “pink slime” controversy, more accurately known as lean, finely textured beef, we’ve seen some major retail outlets and restaurants electing not to offer the product. We’ve also seen three BPI plants temporarily shut, and there have even been a few school districts that have suspended such product purchases.
On the other hand, we’ve seen the USDA Secretary, academics, scientists and politicians whose state economies have been impacted by the shutdown come out in defense of the technology.
The thing that’s interesting is that no one is arguing the product’s safety – it’s a USDA-approved process and product. The recovery process also makes ground beef leaner (which is a health aspect), plus it lowers the overall cost of ground beef to consumers.
Still, there’s something magical about the words “pink slime,” so christened by a government microbiologist in an email to his colleagues some years ago. The characterization was borrowed for use in media reportage, which aptly fit the need for sensationalism, and – perception being reality – the industry was suddenly playing catch up on the issue.
I don’t believe anyone is surprised that the anti-meat activists jumped on this issue. And, it took no one by surprise that the anti-modern agriculture movement also jumped on the pink slime fiasco as validation that something is fundamentally wrong with how we produce our food. What maybe was a little surprising was that that the anti-modern agriculture movement within our industry also jumped on this opportunity.
The whole episode raises the question about which principles are worth standing up for and which ones can, or should be, compromised in the pursuit of political or economic objectives. This particular issue is one that goes beyond the natural, organic, anti-modern, anti-market activists.
Groups like the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) have been struggling, as a result of their losing efforts in remaking the GIPSA marketing rules, as well as mandatory country-of-origin labeling. So these groups, having discarded the goal of converting the majority of livestock industry to their positions, have concluded that topics such as pink slime fit their immediate fundraising needs.
In the end, groups like OCM have concluded that their cause is important enough to join with the enemies of our industry. And the results are sadly pretty predictable. As the saying goes “when you lie down with the dogs, you tend to get fleas.”
Just as the interests of the country should come above partisan politics, the beef industry’s best interest should come above petty internal differences. It’s no accident that hamburger is under attack; it’s the most price-sensitive and a major part of our market. If you hammer the hamburger, you hammer the industry, and these guys are patient and seem to love the idea of using our credibility to destroy ourselves.
The greatest irony is that those who want to destroy the modern packing industry are advocating increased production costs and regulations that will ensure the only ones who can compete are the biggest of players.