First ‘Compost Award’ winner goes to reporting of ‘pink slime’

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.

Photo © Connie Larsen |

Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
Follow Gene on Twitter and Facebook.

5 Responses to “First ‘Compost Award’ winner goes to reporting of ‘pink slime’”

  1. Genius, Gene, genius.

    Hey you takin’ nominations?

  2. What is intended is not always the truth, as in the campaign to ban “pink slime.” By giving it a catchy name and using that as a code word, the public has joined in the movement to have the lean beef product banned. No one knows why, but it just sounds icky, and that’s all most people care about.

    Never mind that the lean, finely textured beef product has been around for more than 30 years and no one has had a problem with it. It’s safe, and because of its low fat content, is probably healthier than the juicy steak that you would have instead.

    But because of the instant recognition and the negative connotation of the word “slime,” a good company may go out of business and thousands may be out of jobs.
    The term “pink slime,” is a derogatory term that is not based on facts, but on people’s misperceptions. The lean beef product is used in sausage, hamburgers, ground beef, and other foods. It provides nutrition without additional harmful fat, and poor people, especially, will suffer the in-creased costs of meats as a result of banning it.

    The fact that pink slime has become synonymous with everything that’s bad is not logical. Take the in-stance recently in North Carolina where the food police (code word for inspectors) confiscated a child’s sandwich and in-stead offered chicken nuggets.

    Chicken nuggets have approximately 38 ingredients, most of which have very little to do with chicken or food, and people are OK with that. People are OK with serving fish sticks and catsup, but they want lean, finely textured beef banned.

    This kind of thinking — or not thinking — is not good for the future of this country.

  3. Thanks for calling it what it is Gene – poor journalism. Reporting of this nature is pure sensationalism, designed to capture attention. More often than not, and certainly in this case, the story is simply not true. Even when the facts and figures cited are proven wrong – the damage is done, and often not repairable. As you mention, more than 600 hard working employees are being negetively affected by this misinformation. Something does smell here – and compost is the polite word for it!

  4. Awesome job, Mr. Hall! I’m sure that this won’t be the last “Compost Award” that you give out, but I hope that they are few and far between. When the Ag community goes through situations like this, certain markets (such as beef for “pink slime”) find it hard to bounce back, but, if we take this situation and put a positive spin on it, we agriculturalists can better learn how to communicate with the “average” consumer.

  5. Gene Hall says:

    I apologize for what is obvously a glitch in our Word Press system. These posts were late because we just became aware of them. For some reason we are not getting email notifications. We’ll keep a closer eye on it unitl this is fixed. Sorry!

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