By Gene Hall
In trying to come up with a way to convey agriculture’s frustration with shoddy reporting—sorry, there’s really not another description that works—and irresponsible repetition of the blatantly incorrect, I’ve decided to create an “award.” This is no Nobel Prize. No money comes with it—no plaque, no cheap certificate. I only offer recognition that the winners have participated in something wrongheaded, unfair and damaging to people and businesses that did not deserve such treatment. There are no judges and no score sheets. It all comes from me and my personal sense of outrage.
Thus, the first of my Compost Awards goes to the reporters and online perpetrators of the destruction of a safe, healthy and completely legitimate product—Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). Most of you have no doubt heard about this as the so-called “pink slime.”
In case you’ve not heard the other side of this, and not many covering the story have bothered to tell much of it, LFTBs are 100 percent beef. A puff of ammonium hydroxide gas is used to control potential bacterial growth that really could be dangerous. The finely ground pure beef is added to other ground beef to make it leaner. In fact, consumer preferences for lean ground beef will be harder to achieve without it.
Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the South Dakota based company that produces most LFTB in this country, has suspended operations at three of its four plants. BPI will try to pay the 650 or so affected employees while it defends itself, but several hundred families face uncertain times. It should be pointed out that BPI has a spotless safety record to date.
A country that has embraced technology in virtually every facet of our lives inexplicably allows detractors to make us terrified of it in agriculture—even though the evidence continues to show we are better off, even safer, because of it.
Most everyone knows what compost is. My mother kept a compost heap for her beloved garden. Manure was the primary input, but onto the pile went leaves, various refuse, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grinds, leftovers and other, well…garbage. Covered and dark, microbial and chemical processes would work on it as it literally rotted. Lifting the lid and sniffing could make you gag. It was a mess, but ultimately, a productive mess.
After a few months, the microbial and chemical mixture of compost would become something that she could use in her garden, producing the finest vegetables and fruits that I’ve ever tasted.
In much the same way, I hope my modest little Compost Award could achieve something worthwhile. Instead of microbes and the chemical processes of decomposition, perhaps truth and common sense will work on this disturbing mixture of dishonesty, half truth and exaggeration to yet yield something positive.