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Let transparency clean up the ‘slime’ debate

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 April 2012

The beef industry’s aggressive push to defend finely textured lean beef in the aftermath of “pink slime” reporting is completely warranted, even if it comes a day late and a dollar short.

We could certainly blame social media, slipshod reporting or an uninformed consumer base. But that would ignore a fundamental modern-day reality.

The uproar over lean trimmings in ground beef shows, yet again, that a seismic shift has hit the marketplace.

Consumers are in the driver’s seat of today’s food industry because they have instant access to product information, both good and bad, falsehood and truth.

And not even the most robust endorsement from USDA food inspectors will always be an ironclad guarantee of customer confidence. As we’ve seen before, few issues produce more safety questions among consumers than what they put into their mouths.

Today’s commodity producers must improve the ability to market their product, and that includes the processes that take place off of their own ranch or operation.

It also requires educating consumers before a crisis strikes. As “pink slime” reporting proved, it’s always better to define what your product is before someone else defines it for you.

Unfortunately, in the case of finely textured lean beef, the industry failed on that front. So the big question now is: How should we respond in defending this beef product?

For starters, beef processors shouldn’t apologize for being sustainable. And with ground beef, sustainability means the safe and healthy use of lean trimmings.

Beef production requires significant amounts of land, water, feed and fuel. By using the entire carcass for cuts, grinds and variety meats, we conserve those resources and put the whole livestock animal to use.

When the national herd is at its smallest size in 60 years, doing otherwise would be ethically and fiscally irresponsible.

Next comes the product’s value. This issue has reignited a long debate on price vs. quality of food. But the simple fact remains – Americans want food that’s affordable and safe.

Finely textured lean beef was made to satisfy both those demands. Time and studies have proven this product lives up to those expectations.

Finally, the industry needs to be transparent and open with consumers about what the product is. If that means labeling ground beef that uses FTLB, then so be it.

041912_poll_results_1That’s what voters in our online poll seemed to suggest.

Even better would be to educate consumers about the grinding and food safety process.

That would foster more confidence in a product Americans love.

As one ag information specialist said – if consumers are comfortable knowing what goes into hot dogs, they should be just as comfortable with the production of ground beef.

We live in a country and industry that celebrates the consumer’s freedom of choice. If we believe in that principle and the quality of our beef products, let’s give consumers the information to make an enlightened decision.  end_mark

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David Cooper
Editor
Progressive Cattleman
magazine

 


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