Opinion by Ann WittmanWritten by Ann Wittman
By Ann Wittmann, Executive Director, Wyoming Beef Council
When the media turns your troubles into a verb with a clearly negative connotation, you know you’re in trouble.
After taking on the role as the national media’s punching bag during the last month for being producers of what they termed “pink slime,” the upshot on the industry’s bottom line is becoming clear; as one informed ag writer put it, the cattle market has been “pinked.”
The news is not good. Drovers reported on April 9 that cattle and beef markets had “moved significantly lower during the prior week, as consumer demand continued to soften with the fallout from the lean fine-textured beef (LFTB) controversy.” Of course, as Drovers also acknowledged, markets are complex and LFTB wasn’t the only factor pulling markets lower, but the impact of negative publicity cannot be overlooked.
I cannot convey strongly enough how important information sharing is amid this controversy over LFTB, as well as the issue of adding ammonium hydroxide to some beef. The latest coverage in consumer media has varied from some comparisons of beef types, to stories focused on the “ick” factor over science, to those about the economics of choice, to a devout food-safety critic’s opinion that the anti-beef campaign actually hampers food-safety efforts, to thoughts on rebranding LFTB and to stories being used to bridge to other negative opinions about beef.
Since the first “pinking” story appeared, the Wyoming Beef Council has been working diligently to share factual science-based information with Wyoming retail grocers, meat managers, food service operators, health professionals, dietitians, wellness coordinators, extension personnel, school foodservice professionals and anyone else who may be receiving questions about the product. We have been keeping the Wyoming graduates of the Masters of Beef Advocacy and Ag Communicators groups informed on the issue and have enlisted their help to help battle the rabid spread of misinformation. In addition to sending out hundreds of letters and fact sheets, I have also personally written countless letters to newspapers and have been interviewed by numerous reporters working in radio and press.
Thankfully, I have been armed with sound information that came from the beef checkoff’s largest national contractor, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. While I have been losing sleep at home, the checkoff’s national response team has also been working tirelessly to provide information to those of us on the ground in the states as well as addressing the issue from a national perspective. During times of crisis such as this, I am so grateful that the producers who established the beef checkoff had the foresight to recognize the value of a state-national partnership.
Nationally, the beef checkoff has been working with Russell Cross, professor and head of the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University who was the administrator of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service when this process was approved in the early ‘90s, to serve as a third-party spokesperson. Cross developed a statement that we have been sharing with media, including ABC News. We also completed a video with Cross that continues to be shared with traditional media, social media and posted on website properties to provide a positive expert point-of-view.
Across the U.S., nearly 3,000 Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) graduates have been activated to join the conversation and help dispel the myth of “pink slime” online. They’re commenting on online media stories and sharing the truth through their networks and social media properties. Several graduates have posted their own blog posts/point of view, including: Beef Magazine, Amanda Radke who encourages the ag community to get actively engaged in this conversation; Common Sense Agriculture, Jeff Fowle, California rancher whose blog discusses the safety of ammonium hydroxide as a GRAS processing agent in a wide variety of foods; and Food for Thought, Hyatt Frobose, Kansas State University, who toured the LFTB producing plant and offers firsthand experience.
Just as we have done in Wyoming, the national retail and food service teams have been distributing resources and information to their channels based on questions being asked at the meat case. Other entities national staff is working with include: American Meat Science Association, Food Marketing Institute, National Restaurant Association, School Nutrition Association and other allied industry groups to supply them with information that they can use to educate their stakeholders and members.
Together, we are leveraging the many resources already available on this issue, including beefisbeef.com, along with and various question and answer documents from the American Meat Institute and the National Meat Association through the beef checkoff’s Explore Beef (explorebeef.org) website. I encourage you to view these websites to arm yourself with the ammunition you need to step up and help spread accurate information about this topic to your friends, neighbors, grocers, butchers and anyone else who will listen or who you hear repeating consumer media rhetoric.
In the meantime, please be assured that your beef checkoff staff, both in Wyoming and at the national level, is working diligently and aggressively on this issue to protect the reputation and practices of cattlemen and the entire beef industry in providing a safe, wholesome protein for consumers’ dinner tables.
Please let me know if you have questions or need help responding to this issue, and I will do my best to get you what you need.