Update: Beef, Slime, and Court Cases

Updated April 2, 2014  Almost two years after ABC News aired the TV segment, “Pink Slime and You,” attacking the beef industry for its use of lean finally textured beef, two companies are one step closer to taking national news station to court.

Update Food processing giant Cargill plans to begin labeling and marketing ground beef next year that contains the additive known as lean finely-textured beef, or LFTB.

From earlier this year:  Call it finely textured meat trimmings or pink slime, the product is the focus of a court case, plant closings, and bitter accusations.

Sounds Shakespearian indeed, and like the Bard’s tales, it seems to have a bit of history, comedy, and tragedy in it. The episode certainly has had economic and social implications, and it confirms the point that in many cases, “the pen is mightier than the sword” (Bulwer-Lytton).  Words do matter, and in the CAST blog below (from March 2012), we look at the connotative powers of the term “pink slime.”

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

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 had been around for months, but it suddenly caught fire in the media bonfire, and it led to many consumers 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 the long name 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 sounds like a Lone Star State production.
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.  When it comes to our food supply, honest, thoughtful messages on all sides would be the best items on the menu. As Shakespeare wrote, “This above all; to thine own self be true.”
by dan gogerty (photo from mit.edu)

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