Following on the downtrodden heels of the recent pink slimegate, perpetrated by people like publicity hawk Jamie Oliver and ABC News short stroker Jim Avila, the American Meat Institute staged a quickly scheduled Lean, Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) Summit at their 2012 Expo in Dallas this week.
Even with the short time frame, they managed to pull together some all star panelists: Ron Plain, D. Howard Doane Professor of Agricultural Economics and Extension Economist with the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources; Jim Dickson, a professor with the Iowa State University Department of Animal Science, and Robert Hibbert, partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm K&L Gates. Panel moderator Janet Riley, AMI's vice president of public affairs, kept those three gentlemen focused and on task.
Pointing out the painful truth that sometimes science accounts for naught, Plain said, “Once 90% of consumers think of it as pink slime, you've lost.”
Dickson took a different fork in the road and suggested consumers should be educated about the safety of the product, instead.
Plain-spoken Dr. Plain underscored his point. The LFTB battle was lost on the battlefield of public opinion before BPI and the industry could muster its defense forces. Therein was the problem. The media – classic outlets like the New York Times and ABC News as well as internet upstarts like Huffpost and the Lunchtray’s Bettina Elias Siegel - were attacking with a ‘Department of War’ mentality. The meat industry reacted with a ‘Department of Defense’ strategy and were late in marshalling their forces.
Hibbert said traditional media are no longer thought leaders; they follow social media's trends. Fact checking and honest investigative reporting have fallen by the wayside due to staffing reductions and budget constraints. USA Today, for instance, is cost cutting by placing their reporting staff on week-long, unpaid furloughs, effectively losing the expertise of some of their best and brightest when critical stories might break.
The heavily defensive and scientifically driven meat industry shelling of false media reports had little effect against the blitzkrieg attack for Avila, Oliver, and others who had already created fear-driven public opinion. The facts and the expert testimony were overpowered by an “I read something by somebody on the internet so it must be true and your expert is just a paid lackey of big meat” reaction.