Remember the “pink slime” story? There have been few news stories in the last while that so got my goat as this one. First New York Times dubbed this 100% beef product “pink slime”, then celebrity chef Jamie Oliver got in the act and through outrageous demonstration showed that this product was actually poison, and then Jim Avila of ABC News jumped on the band wagon and did stories on this horrific stuff being fed to us and our kids in our innocent hamburger.
This was “infotainment” at some of its worst, and the price paid was high. Beef prices did jump for a bit, schools refused to buy hamburger using the product known in the industry as “lean, finely textured beef,” and grocery stores took it off their shelves. Meat processors had to shut down and the main producer, BPI, laid off over 650 workers.
Now, they are fighting back with a $1.2 billion (yes, billion) lawsuit against ABC News. The legal standard for libel and defamation is exceptionally high, and I am grateful for that because protecting a free and open press is vitally important to all of us. Consequently I think that BPI has a big hill to climb. But I also think that ABC is going to have to answer some tough questions. I only regret that Jamie Oliver was not named as I thought his behavior on that show was inexcusable (see crisisblogger story linked above for link to his show YouTube).
Let me be very clear here. I have no problem with people deciding they don’t want lean, finely textured beef in their hamburger. I have no problem with full disclosure and food companies saying exactly what’s in the food. I have a huge problem with labeling a product with a name like slime, picturing use of ammonia in maintaining food safety as some dubious chemical practice when ammonia itself is present in beef and a normal part of making tons of food products like ice cream. In short, if you are going to tell a story about something like a beef product you don’t like, you better tell more of the story than was told here and you better be careful about how you lead your audiences by false characterizations. In other words, for God’s sake, be honest. There is plenty of bad stuff being done by bad people to tell the truth about it. Don’t go around making it up and then pretend you are a responsible journalist.
BPI was horribly ill-prepared to respond to the crisis as so many in food production are. But I for one am grateful that they are going to try and hold ABC to account for the damage done.