After reading our post on the controversy over “pink slime”/”lean finely textured beef,” a representative from the beef industry emailed us with a response.
Dan Casey, general manager at Nor-Am Cold Storage, told us we’ve got it all wrong. Nor-Am is a refrigerated warehouse where beef, pork, and poultry are packaged and ice cream is repackaged. Customers include big meat businesses like Cargill and Tyson.
“It’s not filler which would by USDA regulation require ingredient labeling. It’s beef 100%, about 20% more than ‘beef’ served at Taco Bell. It’s not made from scraps, but trimmings. This is a commodity not garbage. You have probably eaten it,” he wrote to us.
We aren’t meat-making or packaging experts, but the use of the word “filler” in our post was based on its use in just about every article we’ve read on the subject.
The email continues:
It is a green resource in that fewer animals are needed to feed more.
People have no clue where their food comes from and how it gets to the grocery store. If LFTB is bad take a look at Twinkes [sic], chicken nuggets, hot dogs, Wheat Thins, Pringles, Lean Cusine, etc, etc. Perhaps, the critics would fine [sic] a third world diet of insects more appealing.
I apologize for my rant, however I see good people being hurt by this ongoing slander started by an ex-government employee, popularized by Jaime Oliver and perpetuated by ‘journalists’.
In a separate email, Casey wrote the following:
The focus has been on BPI, but Cargill and Tyson both also produce finely textured beef. Cargill has seen 90% of the market for their FTB disappear and I believe Tyson stopped producing entirely. Cargill uses citric acid as their processing aid to kill pathogens in stead [sic] of the ammonia hydroxide used by BPI. However, the FTB product has been lumped together and until the hysteria subsides this will impact more people than just the laid off workers at BPI.
If the demand for beef drops right as ‘grilling season’ is starting it will affect more people than our customers. Lower demand for beef means lower prices for feed (corn) impacting farmers, increasing the cost for transportation because of the lower prices and so on.
I’m hoping to counter what I believe is inaccurate or unfair descriptions of the product or process. In an ideal world I would kill, process and grow everything I put in my mouth. As a practical matter, I don’t have the luxury of time for that lifestyle.
With more and more noses turning up over “pink slime,” the efforts to push back against what the beef industry and its supporters say is a misnomer have ratcheted up.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback toured the Beef Products Inc. plant in Iowa yesterday, the first look inside a plant since calls for removal of the additive were first made. The Governors also sampled the product and were shown how it’s made. Reading about it doesn’t exactly make it sound more appetizing.
The Governors were then given t-shirts with the words, “Dude, it’s beef.”
However, crisis comms experts say the image makeover is going to take much more than all of this. They’re going to have to change the perception and get away from the term “pink slime.”
“They have this moniker now and they can’t seem to get the slime off of them,” Marcia Horowitz, SVP at Rubenstein & Associates told MSNBC. But any attempts to change the term could be seen as spin.
As we mentioned in the case of the Etch A Sketch gaffe, the term is a catchy one that “conjures something immediate” with people. And what it’s conjuring isn’t appetizing.
More than that, companies that serve meat are using the issue to promote the quality of their products. We saw a sign at a Whole Foods in Manhattan the other day saying explicitly that they don’t use pink slime. And Wendy’s is using it in it’s advertising. The beef industry has got a tough road ahead to make its case.
*Update: Ad Age reports that there’s been some client conflict related to this controversy over at Omnicom. Wendy’s is a Ketchum client. And BPI hired Ketchum earlier this month for crisis comms work. Because of today’s ad, Ketchum is moving the BPI work to another Omnicom firm.