A few years ago, a neighbor who knew that I wrote the occasional column for Cattlenetwork, accosted me on the sidewalk to express her outrage. She pointed at a 12 year-old girl playing stoop tag in her front yard with several other children. They were all nearly the same age and had been friends most of their lives. There was one jarring difference.
The girl my neighbor was pointing to looked closer to 18 than 12.
“It’s because of all those hormones they inject in cattle!” She said. “You guys have just got to stop doing that!”
I was flattered that she considered me to be one of those guys but I told her the problem was elsewhere, that beef from cattle treated with growth hormones reaching the marketplace were required by law to have similar hormone levels as untreated animals.
She didn’t buy it. She ‘harrumphed’ and stormed off. Such is the attitude of too many consumers. The over-the-top but fact-free sensationalism of nonsense peddlers like the Food Babe and Dr. Oz are designed to stir up the ticket buyers waiting for the box office to open at the Short Attention Span Theater; people who like their sci-fi factoids in small, easy-to-digest spoonfuls. Digging a little deeper is hard work when you can learn all you want to know about a subject on the always reliable Facebook or afternoon television.
Dr. Richard Raymond, former undersecretary of agriculture for food safety, put it in perspective a few days ago when he spoke to a group of physicians in Oklahoma. He blogged about it in Meatingplace magazine. “Meat from cattle implanted with that estrogen hormone contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen per 3 ounce serving. Non-implanted meat will contain 1.3 nanograms. So there is a difference, and no one should claim there is not.”
He continued with his science lesson: “But the 1.9 nanograms of estrogen contained in one serving of beef (3 ounces) are nothing compared to the 225 nanograms in a potato or the 11,250 nanograms of estrogen in soy milk. How about the birth control pill that contains 35,000 nanograms or the 480,000 nanograms of estrogen produced daily by a woman before menopause?”
Doing the math, a glass of ‘healthier than real milk soy milk’ has almost 6,000 times the estrogen as 3 ounces (AKA two bites) of beef. I’ve heard the rare warning that soy-based products can cause allergic reactions in a few people, but I’ve heard no one yowl about the dangers of ‘premature’ maturation among pre-teens caused by excessive soy milk consumption or eating too many ketchup-dipped McDonald’s French fries (118 times more estrogen).
Of course that Short Attention Span Theater thing has been with us for a long time. People in the news, especially politicians, have learned to speak in short 12 second sound bites. They make sweeping statements in 20 words or less. No need to worry about hard facts, few people will call them on it, anyway.
Bottom line: Want to sell the truth as hard as those other guys sell fiction? Learn from some of the most successful con men in the business. Figure out a way to express yourself in a quick and catchy 20 word statement.