Impact of LFTB controversy lingers

by Erica Shaffer
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The controversy over lean finely textured beef is affecting consumer purchasing behaviors, despite efforts by industry and government to manage the issue.

A study, commissioned by Red Robin and conducted by Harris Interactive, found that 88 percent of adults surveyed are aware of the LFTB issue. Among respondents who were aware of the issue, when asked about their level concern about LFTB, 76 percent said they were “at least somewhat concerned,” with 30 percent of respondents stating they were “extremely concerned”.

The survey also revealed that 53 percent of respondents who were aware of the LFTB controversy took some action as a result. Twenty-four percent said they researched the brands of ground beef they purchased or researched the brand of ground beef used at the restaurants they visited. Respondents who said they decreased and/or stopped altogether their consumption of restaurant foods containing ground beef, and 25 percent said they have either decreased or stopped altogether purchases of ground beef from grocery stores.

“While this kind of processed beef has been used for many years, the Harris Interactive poll shows that consumer fears are very real, and they’re not ready to let them just fade away,” said Steve Carley, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers chief executive officer . “This underscores that our industry simply must do a better job of communicating the facts, educating consumers and regaining consumer trust in the quality of the food they buy.”

It’s the negative reaction by consumers like the respondents in the Red Robin survey that have government and industry concerned about potential effects on food prices at a time when many Americans continue to struggle financially. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black called a press conference April 3 to try to warn that an overreaction to the issue could have economic consequences.

Black also reaffirmed the safety of LFTB and said he supported voluntary labeling, but opposes mandatory labeling.

Also, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on April 2 called for a Congressional investigation into what he called a “smear campaign” against LFTB. He told The Associated Press he discussed the possibility of an inquiry with US Reps. Steve King and Leonard Boswell and raised the issue with US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"We have a smear campaign going on against a product that is healthy and safe," Branstad said at his weekly news conference. "If they get by with this, what other food products are they going to attack next?"

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