In a surprisingly fast turnabout - only about a week after investigative revelations that the amusingly named "pink slime" is used in up to 80% of ground beef nationwide - nearly all major grocery chains decided to stop using it, and the product's major (only?) producer has shut down three of its four plants and could face bankruptcy.
I grant that "lean, finely textured beef" - which is the maker's term for what it turns out - may in fact be perfectly edible, safe, and yes, even "actual beef" and certainly no worse than what goes into a lot of sausages. I concede that any effort to extract the last bit of food value from the huge amounts of waste that are processed out of slaughterhouses makes economic and environmental good sense.
Thus it's arguable that the recent flap is mainly a public relations disaster. But if so, it's one of the key players' own making. Underlying the marketing strategy is a clear effort to deceive, in which the manufacturer, the FDA, and supermarket chains (let's call them collectively the "Gang of Three") colluded. It could easily have been avoided with a reality check.
The Gang need only have asked themselves what the public's conception of "ground beef" was. Surely the answer would be that it's ground meat with some of its associated fat. LFTB may indeed be "up to 97% lean beef" but to the public it has a very different cachet, so it is not the same as "beef." And it's cheaper. None of the Gang could have been ignorant of those basic facts. None of them could have expected that the consumer, if she/he knew, would accept the presence of LFTB in her "ground beef" with equanimity. The quick retreat by all supermarkets demonstrates the truth of this simple observation.
It's a big blow to owners, employees, and local communities when a business goes under, but if that happens I won't have much sympathy for this company, which undoubtedly lobbied heavily to make sure its product was not listed as a separate ingredient. Meanwhile I await with anticipation the further developments of this saga:
- Will Beef Products Inc. find a new market for LFTB, perhaps by developing a product with a defined - and labeled! - percentage to be sold at a lower price?
- Will the Governors of Texas, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska be shown on tonight's news chowing down on a 100%-LFTB burger? Will they risk their political futures on endorsing the product for consumption by the citizens of their states?
- Will the USG agencies involved promise to use common sense in future in pushing back against industry pressure?
- Will supermarkets admit their own role in this? (HInt: At my own grocery store this past weekend, one of the "reformed offenders," there were no signs suggesting that their ground beef is now free of pink slime, or that it had ever contained it.) Will they be reducing their price as a kind of "deception discount?"