Perception is pink slime. Reality is panic.

Beefs and Beliefs

Lynch mob mentality is the heart of the pink slime panic.

Published on: March 22, 2012

We've all heard the old saw that perception is reality but I'd like to propose we add something to it:

"Perception is reality among the ignorant."

I don't know about you but when someone tells me something with an obvious visceral component, my first reaction is to start asking questions.

Nine times out of 10 I find they know very little about their subject. Usually, something about it just caused them to react.

So it is with the "pink slime" panic.

Mostly I keep following this because I fear it's going to hurt ground beef demand at a time when that's our biggest market share of the meat-products market and at a time when high prices are surely beginning to tax consumers' pocketbooks.

The latest news on the national front yesterday was Safeway grocery chain said the product is safe but the company will stop using it because of consumer reaction.

In its public statement, Safeway said it is "committed to providing our customers with the highest-quality products. While the USDA and food industry experts agree that lean finely textured beef is safe and wholesome, recent news stories have caused considerable consumer concern about this product. Safeway will no longer purchase ground beef containing lean finely textured beef."

I can't blame Safeway or Taco Bell or McDonald's or Wendy's for their decision to drop the product, frankly. Their collective objective is to make a profit. Avoiding a hot topic removes them from the discussion. Nor do I think USDA did anything wrong in allowing local school districts to make their own decisions about using lean finely textured beef -- a.k.a. pink slime.

Unfortunately their retreat from the battle also incites the lynch mob.

You can see that pattern throughout the news coverage. Another news item hit the internet yesterday from New York City (no surprise, eh?).

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer called a press conference to demand the Department of Education eliminate "pink slime."

Here's where he makes my point for me:

“When New York City lags behind McDonalds and Taco Bell in their standards for food quality, you know something’s awry,” Stringer reportedly said.

Didn't McDonalds and Taco Bell say pretty much the same thing as Safeway: that the product is safe but they are concerned about consumer reaction?

Stringer is also quoted as saying, “We should not be serving our kids the scraps from the slaughterhouse.”

Wow! So he never served his kids sausage or bought them hot dogs?

These are the type people who led lynch mobs.

In western movies the hero usually faced them down by threatening to shoot the leader, or sometimes by shooting him. Sometimes, he shamed them with personal knowledge about their own miserable lives. Unfortunately, however, life wasn't so simple then and it isn't now.

Looks like the beef industry needs to just keep telling the truth and waiting on this issue to blow over. If we're lucky, our demand will hold and people will quickly forget their foibles as they always do.

Beef Products Incorporated, on the other hand, may be seriously injured by this debouche. That outfit seems to me a real leader in food safety practices and quality control. I bet they are wondering when the sheriff might come defend them from the mob. Right now the noose is around their collective neck.

The latest reporting

The reporting on "pink slime" is mostly breathless and biased. It is full of hyperbole and exaggeration, and most of it I've read has some blatant inaccuracies.

However, one reasonably fair article can be found in the New Scientist.

The Pink slime craze was apparently started by Bettina Elias Siegel in her blog.

A truly pathetic story on the eating qualities or lack thereof in ground beef with and without "pink slime" was written by Associated Press food writer J.M. Hirsch. I can't just let this one go without noting this was neither a blind taste test nor did it include more than a single ground beef patty from two single packages. Therefore his own bias makes the project worthless. Further, over the last 40 years I have found roughly the variety in quality he reports in ground beef products I purchased in grocery stores.

If you'd like to read a question-answer series on its products from Beef Products Inc., the maker of "pink slime," which is actually called lean finely textured beef, click here.

If you would like to read the response of the American Meat Institute to the pink slime panic click here.