DALLAS -- As the beef industry recovers from the recent media-driven uproar over "pink slime," beef producers and marketers are assessing how the firestorm over lean finely textured beef happened and what they can do to prevent it from recurring.
Toward that goal, the American Meat Institute's 2012 Expo held here yesterday included a Lean Finely Textured Beef Summit Summit.
Panelist Ron Plain -- D. Howard Doane Professor of Agricultural Economics and Extension Economist with the University of Missouri's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources -- summed up the damage to beef industry from the incident bluntly.
"Once 90% of consumers think of it as pink slime, you've lost," Plain said.
His comment was intended to illustrate that even though LFTB has proved to be a safe, low-fat product that has been consumed safely by millions for many years, for most consumers image often overwhelms facts.
Panelist Jim Dickson, a professor with the Iowa State University Department of Animal Science, gave a detailed rundown of the LFTB production process to dispel inaccuracies (such as LFTB being made from packinghouse floor sweepings) prevalent on the Internet and in TV news reports.
Dickson said consumers don't know the realities of food production and urged emphasizing the safety of the product.
But Plain said telling consumers about the production process for LFTB to assure them about the quality of the meat likely won't help much because the process isn't the problem; the name -- pink slime -- is.
Panel moderator Janet Riley, AMI's vice president of public affairs, cited the "sexy" moniker pink slime for taking a little-known type of beef and turning it unfairly into a supposed threat the Americans' diets and health.
Riley criticized the handling of the story in the media, particularly for their reluctance or refusal to interview industry-suggested sources -- in a Fox News interview Riley was paired opposite a medical doctor with no background in food safety -- but rather choosing to rely on sources long on inflammatory opinion but short on knowledge of food science and production.
Social media (such as the Twitter hashtag #pinkslime) played a big part the pink slime controversy reaching the level it did, and Riley urged audience members to use Twitter and other social media to get out in front of potentially damaging media reports before it's too late.
Panelist Robert Hibbert, partner in the law firm K&L Gates, also said traditional media often take their cues from social media's trending topics and are less likely to check facts and thoroughly report a story than in the past because of staffing reductions and budget constraints.
Hibbert said the views espoused by some food bloggers and activists supporting local or heirloom foods or other trends clashes with the growing global population's need for affordable, abundant and safe food.
He urged the beef industry to adopt a message of broader safety and affordability.