I had just graduated from law school when I started seeing the headlines. ABC News was calling it pink slime: the creepy gooey substance that the food industry was hiding from Americans. News reports questioned whether it was safe, whether it was healthy, and whether it was harming us. More importantly, why was it hidden from the public?
It didn’t take long before the story started making the rounds on social media. The comments associated with my Facebook friends’ posts were disconcerting. The consensus was that this was just the latest example of a broken system trying to sell the consuming public unhealthy and innutritious junk as food.
My gut told me that something about the controversy was false. I knew better. I understood the layers and layers of regulations monitoring our food system. I was skeptical that a company could get away with such a thing. I certainly didn’t believe that anyone would purposefully put some nefarious substance into our food supply.
However, when I tried to find sources to explain what lean finely textured beef (the correct name of the “pink slime” substance) was and why it was used, I came up empty. It was frustrating. I was skeptical and actually looking for information to debunk these headlines. If I couldn’t find them, how would the average consumer who doesn’t automatically question such claims about our food system, ever get the real answers?
It was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back and persuaded me to finally take the plunge into blogging. If no one else was going to provide answers, I would seek them out and make them available. Thanks, ABC, I haven’t regretted the decision.
Not long after I launched my website, I found out more about the story behind lean finely textured beef. My gut reaction was correct: It is a perfectly safe product. In fact, it is actually just very lean beef that has to go through a process to kill any food borne pathogens. There are no reported cases of anyone getting sick or dying from it.
But that type of headline and news story doesn’t sell. So, ABC News ran stories and created salacious headlines, because that does get people interested and it does increase ratings. We see these types of headlines and salacious reports all the time. Unfortunately, those perpetrating the stories are usually never held to account for it, and certainly not in a financial way.
ABC News wasn’t quite so lucky. Beef Products Inc., the company that creates the product, sued ABC for defamation. It was announced this week that, a week after the trial started, ABC and BPI settled for an undisclosed amount. As an attorney, I know that the settlement does not mean that ABC admitted to being wrong or liable for the damages they inflicted. In fact, they’re standing by their newscasts. However, they still had to pay and it was probably a pretty penny, too.
The people who run false stories about food and agriculture need to be held responsible for the misinformation they spread. Marketing campaigns that scare consumers about the food that they eat should not be left unchecked. BPI has taken the first step in creating an environment where this isn’t acceptable.
I’m so thankful today that there are so many other farm bloggers, food bloggers, organizations, and others telling the story of agriculture and busting food myths. Already we’ve seen examples of where those in agriculture have successfully put pressure on celebrities and companies to change the message. I’m always happy to see that so many more people, especially those without direct ties to farming, have entered that arena and take a stand. I’m confident that the next time a news organization tries to sensationalize and demonize a safe product, there will be plenty of people to speak out about it.
Thanks to ABC, I’ll be one of them.
By the way, if you would like an example of how easily something like this can happen, check out this video highlighting how easily the producers of “Food, Inc.” were able to manipulate a visit to the BPI plant.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry.