Stop surprising consumers

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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The main reason consumers reacted so violently to the “pink slime” issue is that people hate surprises. Their immediate reaction was “ick, ammonia and pink slime in my burger.” Even though lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is 100-percent beef; it is not what most people expect to be ground beef.

I have talked to many people outside the industry and the one thing that really upset them was that LFTB was not listed on the label. When the product was explained, most people had a different, more positive view. At a recent talk to university students, I explained how separating the beef from fat trimmings saves about 15 lbs. of meat per steer. This adds up to thousands of cattle in a single month. Throwing this nutritious protein out would be sinful. Most people would accept this if LFTB was labeled and put in lower priced hamburger. One may ask why LFTB wasn’t listed on the label. When the process was invented 20 years ago, the industry was living in a different era.

Starbucks had a similar crisis with the use of an extract made from cochineal insects. Both vegans and people who observe kosher dietary laws were upset about this. In both the pink slime and the insect debate, food safety was never an issue. Cochineal extract has been used as a food coloring for years and ammonia is used in many food processes. In both of these, “ick” was a major factor. Starbucks has announced that they will replace cochineal extract with red coloring that will be extracted from tomatoes. Cargill uses citric acid in their LFTB instead of ammonia. To most consumers, citric acid and tomato extract removes a major “ick” factor. When something some people think is really “icky” has to be used, it must be explained. The benefits must be clearly stated.

Need for glass walls

Now that almost every phone has a video camera, the only way the industry can win on most of these issues is total transparency about what they do. When the “pink slime” crisis first hit, Janet Riley at AMI created an excellent video where she explained the LFTB process in an easy-to-understand manner. Unfortunately, the video showed Janet in an office and there were no pictures of a plant to show the LFTB process. Janet should have been narrating while a video of each step of the process was played.

Unfortunately, the people who owned the plants were worried about competitors stealing their process secrets and they were reluctant to release video. It is ridiculous to worry about secrets when a process is 20 years old. Everybody in the industry knows how it works. In all my years of consulting, I have learned that people who attempt to keep old processes secret have obsolete equipment and everybody in the industry knows it is old-fashioned. The people who have the most innovative methods are much more open and only keep research and development and very new processes secret. By sharing ideas, the industry moves forward and becomes more innovative.

Failure to show videos of the complete process the instant the crisis hit sent the wrong message to the consumer. Many consumers think the industry isn’t showing the process because it really is bad and gross – this is not true. We need to show the public that LFTB is a safe, clean process that stops the waste of food.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.

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By Mark Elia 10/22/2013 5:27:46 PM
Thank you for such an informative article. As an Instructor of Meat Fabrication at The CIA, this is a great piece of information that I can share with my students. I try to teach my students to make their own decisions, gather all info possible, and not get hooked on media hype. The bad wrap that FTLB took put many families out of work. There are always two sides to a story. Thanks for reading.

By Lisa Kellogg-Williams 7/4/2012 6:35:45 AM
Dr. Grandin I so much enjoy your articles and anything you are involved in. You make it easy to understand and are direct and to the point. The "so called pink slime" should have been handled differently, however with today's standards I can't see the meat packing industry not doing anything safe, and the consumer is our best critic. It is a shame it spiraled out of control and many people lost their jobs. I look forward to more of your articles. Keep up the great work. Lisa Kellogg-Williams

By JOE DUBAS 6/22/2012 2:02:50 PM
Dr. Grandin. It is always a pleasure to read about something you are envolved in and the pink slime so called problem was annother good one. You are 100% correct when you say that it should have ben handled differently. I am a retired USDA Supervisory inspector and met you at the Cargill/Taylor plant in Wyalusing Pa. If you don't remember me, that is quite allright, but I was the one that you signed the meat magazine that had the Humane handling article. Keep up the good work and God Bless. Have a great day. Joe D.