Friday, March 23, 2012

Would Finely Textured Beef by Any Other Name Taste the Same?

September 2013 Update: More than a year after lean finely textured beef, also known as “pink slime,” initially made headlines, the product has been added to 2013 school lunch menus in four more states. The blog below from last year gives background, insights, and links about the issue.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Shakespeare

Now that several large supermarket chains have banned any beef containing lean finely textured meat trimmings, the pink slime issue has become even more “textured.” 
 
One side, led by Jamie Oliver and ABC Nightly News investigations, indicates that the meat by-product is possibly dangerous, probably treated by a suspect ammonia process, and definitely in need of being labeled whenever it is sold.  They say a subtle meat industry practice has forced pseudo beef onto the consumer.
The other side, backed by numerous companies and scientists, claims the product is safe and approved. They say a slur campaign is going to result in wasted products, higher costs, and the abandonment of a perfectly useful food.
Maybe one thing all sides would agree on is that the “pink slime” term was a master stroke in connotative maneuvering.  The pejorative phrase has been around for months, but it caught fire in the media bonfire during the past few weeks, and at least for now, many consumers are calling for slime-free (non-textured) meat.
The meat industry was caught off guard. If they could have come up with a Madison Avenue term for the product early on, the outcry may have been muted.  A tough task though, considering what they had to work with: Lean Finely Textured Beef.  Hmmm. The acronym sounds more like a school club: LFTB. Adding the word “trimmings” allows for an alliteration like “textured trimmings,” or using truncated words could make something like Fine Tex Beef, but that could be stretching things a bit.
Maybe the industry should have changed the term completely like other food products have done. Not many would order Slimehead from the fish menu, but its replacement name, Orange Roughy, has worked out fine. Fatty Goose Liver is not in demand, but French food lovers go for foie gras. And no need to elaborate about the term Rocky Mountain Oysters.
So, a new name. How about something like “pink protein” or “the other pink meat”? If the color is the problem, then they could try “lean trim protein.” That has a healthy sound to it, although it might be too wordy for the Twitter world.
Names aside, the important factors for agricultural products are health, nutrition, and economics. In the New Digital World, communication about these factors is key. Food producers and consumers need to communicate, and the media can be the means or it can be the message--clear or distorted.  The following sites may provide some links and information that help clarify these messages in a time when credible science and carefully reviewed material are crucial. 
A forum discussion about this communication issue: This panel discussion from Harvest Media is a long but interesting debate about communicating the message of ag issues.  
Truth from producers and consumers:  This article by Sarah Muirhead of Feedstuffs FoodLink examines polarization and common sense communication.  As she says, “Trust is the core of any solid relationship, including the one that exists between consumers and farmers.” 
Slant, media, and the truth: Two Texas A&M professors give their insights about the slants and misleading information that can come from all sides, and they refer to the “pink slime” issue in this article.  
Junk journalism and sound science:  Michelle Payn Knopfer provides blog insights and links as she tries to determine what is true when it comes to farm, food, and nutrition information.
The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology:  For forty years, the organization has promoted its mission to assemble, interpret, and communicate credible science-based information
by dan gogerty (photo courtesy of ars/usda)

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