OFW Law founding principal Richard L. Frank fills in for former USDA Secretary John R. Block on John Block Reports.
Reaching new lows in broadcast television journalism, ABC News several weeks ago ran an investigative report unfairly and inaccurately disparaging a safe and wholesome lean beef product by repeatedly referring to it as “pink slime.” They sent out their reporters on a witch hunt to identify those retail stores across the country offering their customers ground beef with “pink slime.” This sensational reporting unnecessarily scared the public and amounted to an attack on American agriculture. It reminds me of the scare attack on alar in apples…turned out to be no problem for consumers; but nearly killed the apple industry.
Lean, finely textured beef, or LFTB, is safe, wholesome, nutritious, and 100% meat. It has been and continues to be inspected and approved by USDA. BPI, the principal producer of LFTB, has a safety record second to none in the industry.
Yet inexplicably, LFTB continues to be the punching bag of investigative reporters and bloggers. One has to ask the question, why a company that has achieved some of the greatest innovations in increasing cattle yield and improving food safety would be the target of such an inaccurate and mean-spirited publicity campaign.
Several years ago, two mid-level USDA employees sought to block the approvals for the production, use, and labeling of LFTB. One of those employees derisively dubbed the product “pink slime” and, along with a disgruntled former BPI employee, began a crusade to malign the product. The overwhelming majority of USDA officials, including leadership under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, disagreed with them. USDA reaffirmed the safety and wholesomeness of LFTB just last week.
It’s important to note that for over 10 years, most of the nation’s leading hamburger chains and retail grocery stores have safely used LFTB with confidence. It has only been over the past few months as the cheap shot “pink slime” stories hit the headlines that the users have run for the exits.
In many instances, investigative reporting and even solid muckraking benefit the public. Upton Sinclair’s seminal work, The Jungle, exposed horrendous working conditions in Chicago’s meat packing plants and led to huge improvements for agricultural workers. In contrast, BPI is the nation’s leading innovator in finding ways to make ground beef safer and has one of the most modern plants in the nation. Yet, the pink slime campaign has led to nearly 1,000 workers losing their job. Both Linda Golodner, former President of the National Consumers League, and Nancy Donley, Spokesperson for STOP Foodborne Illness, have expressed sincere disappointment and regret at what is happening to BPI and, by extension, food safety in America. Sadly, I join them.