What’s in a Name? Free Range, Natural, Hormones, and Antibiotics

March 25 Update: Defining “sustainable beef“– Does it mean organic? Locally sourced? Grass-fed? This group is trying to define the term, and the draft is open for public comment.

The USDA labeling division has the tough task of making sure labels on packaged meat and poultry are “accurate and not misleading.” As you will read at this link, Dr. Richard Raymond, a former USDA undersecretary for food safety, has questions and concerns about the process.  

Shakespeare knew that the “pen is mightier than the sword” (Bulwer-Lytton), and he understood that words could cause conflict and confusion. Many of his plays hinge on predictions, inflammatory statements, mistaken meanings, and other word misadventures. In agricultural circles, word wars surface in many ways, and the labeling issue is a prime example.

The pink slime episode also confirmed that in several ways, as this rewrite of an earlier blog examines.
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

When several large supermarket chains banned any beef containing lean finely textured meat trimmings, the pink slime issue became even more “textured.” 
One side, led by Jamie Oliver and ABC Nightly News investigations, indicated 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, claimed the product is safe and approved. They say a slur campaign results in wasted products, higher costs, and the abandonment of a perfectly useful food. Some companies are beginning to process finely textured beef again.
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 caught fire in the media bonfire and 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. 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 some French food lovers go for the controversial 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 (photos from ars/usda and mit.edu)

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