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Manipulated Public Opinion Trumps Real Science – Again

Opinion

The very recent attacks on Beef Products Inc. by groups of well-intentioned but seriously misguided foodies is more proof that good science is too often trumped by manipulated public opinion. For those of you who don’t know the company, BPI produces a boneless lean beef product from trim that is usually lost. Its primary uses are for hamburger patties, taco meat, chili and sausages.

 

It has two primary benefits: It’s a very low-cost additive and it is as close to an absolutely safe product as humanly possible to produce. Its biggest negative?  Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver started a devil’s chorus of condemnation when he labeled it ‘pink slime’ on the season premiere of his now-cancelled ‘Food Revolution’ TV program. Watch the segment on YouTube: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wshlnRWnf30)

 

It was the second major victory of ignorance over science. The first being the almost complete beat-down suffered by irradiation a decade ago.

Irradiation’s opponents cried out that the process gave beef processors free rein to take unwarranted shortcuts – not cleaning carcasses, for instance. “Irradiated poop is still poop,” they said, “and this will allow them to sell that crap to the public.”

Of course two facts — (1) irradiation is almost a “silver bullet” that can eradicate most food borne pathogens and (2) it was designed as an end-of-production additional hurdle to be used after several other food safety steps, including thoroughly washing that carcass, had already been taken — were shunned in the stampede away from the process.

  

“No!” said the Safe Food Luddites. “The American public should not be forced to accept glow-in-the-dark meat liberally dosed with irradiated poop!”

But back to the damage that Oliver created. He demonstrated how “70 percent” of America’s ground beef contains leftover cow parts (aka “pink slime”) containing E. coli and Salmonella that has been treated with ammonia. Seventy percent seems a little high, I’m sure BPI founder Eldon Roth would be delighted with that share of market and I know most food safety advocates would love the results.

And saying those “leftover cow parts” contain E. coli and Salmonella is taking gross liberties with the truth.  OK, let’s call it what it is: A lie written for maximum emotional impact. Even if some very small percentage was contaminated, the food safety practices used by BPI would quickly identify the problem and their process would eradicate any pathogens.

  

BPI was the first company to hold and test for the “Big Six” E. coli pathogens, for instance, announcing the decision on July 14, 2011, well before the announced FSIS mandated deadline of March 5, 2012. In a press release a company spokesman said, “This first-of-a-kind action is part of the company’s ‘hold and test’ quality assurance program through which BPI samples its lean beef prior to sale, holds the lean beef, and tests for the presence of pathogens. Only after determining the test results are negative will beef be sold or used for raw ground beef.”

 

Keith Nunes, executive editor of Food Business News, writing for Meat&Poultry magazine, said “due to negative publicity, the company that once promoted the fact its boneless lean beef is used in the hamburgers manufactured for most of the nation’s major fast-food chains has seen some of those customers tell their suppliers to stop using the Beef Products lean beef.  Negative publicity about the company’s process and the use of the compound ammonium hydroxide, a critical component of the process, is at the heart of Beef Products’ recent challenges.” 

Opponents would have you believe that large vats of contaminated beef are drowned in household ammonia at BPI and then masticated into a chemical goo that’s hidden in meat patties that are being force-fed to innocent children in school lunch programs.

Nunes pointed out that the meat is exposed to “ammonium hydroxide, designated as ‘generally recognized as safe’ for use in food by the Food and Drug Administration in 1974 and it has been used as a leavening agent in baked foods as well as a way to manage the pH in many types of food products since then.”

BPI has been upfront about the safety process and the scientific review that went into evaluating its effectiveness as a food safety tool. Its processes and products have received accolades by many people in the food safety arena.  Nancy Donley, the founder of Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP) and one of the most well-known and respected observers of the food industry, praised Eldon Roth and his work at BPI when she helped inaugurate him into the Meat Industry Hall of Fame in November.

Stating some of the science behind the process, Nunes wrote, “Ammonium hydroxide is naturally found in proteins such as beef, pork and chicken. What the Beef Products process does is increase the amount of ammonium hydroxide in the lean beef to elevate its overall pH and make the product inhospitable to the survival of pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella.”

Nunes was concerned that unfounded public perceptions were being used “to cast a negative light on a process that is proven to be safe and has been designed to protect consumers.” 

“The situation Beef Products finds itself in is not isolated,” he wrote. “Other processes, such as the use of bisphenol A, are also being challenged. Food safety is not a natural, pure or simple process and products will be less safe if effective processes are shunned for reasons that have more to do with perception than science.”*

Making sure our food supply is as safe as possible requires the use of some sophisticated science, and emotional reactions by people who speak before they understand the process will delay acceptance at best.  The worst case, though, is their unwarranted and unsubstantiated fears can stop needed and proven scientific advances cold, exposing thousands of people to easily avoidable illnesses and death.

*Read Keith Nunes’ editorial in MeatPoultry.com magazine


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Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.



© Food Safety News
  • Larry Andrew

    Chuck….aside from the back and forth regarding the process…my concern as a consumer is to know what is in the products I buy. I can do my own research and establish my own comfort level regarding what my family eats if I know what is in the product I am buying. I learned about BPI by reading this publication, not by watching Jamie Oliver.
    Do you think BPI is comfortable with a requirement that all food containing their products be labeled? Would McDonalds continue to buy it if they were required to tell their consumers that it is included in their hamburgers?

  • Luna_food crusader

    Chuck, when will you ever learn foodies have the real truth, the True Belief? Emotion is the one thing that matters. Science is only so much dry boring background noise. Eventually you will learn that fashion food is the one acceptable food and all animals must be eradicated to prevent any chance of cruelty. It is simple common sense, Chuck. We will not stop at Meatless Monday. That is merely our first stepping stone to putting your evil farmers and food producers out of business once and for all time. Food is too cheap and there is too much of it and that is all your fault. Michael Pollan will feed us. He knows everything.

  • Steve

    Well, here’s the meat industry point of view, from a “Meat Hall of Fame” member, no less.
    Of course there’s no mention of all of Big Meat’s huge budgets devoted to the manipulating of public opinion to accept factory raised animals over all these years. Consumers Beware — the industrialization of our food supply is inherently risky — requiring more and more magic bullet technological interventions to fix the problems they have created — only to create more…
    Pink slime, irradiation and CAFO-raised meat — not on my plate thank you!!

  • FoodSci

    Chefs (and journalists and pop figures) have as much business making food safety and nutrition pronouncements as interior decorators do critizing the soundness of building structures.Maybe a handful ate qualified. The rest is so much flimflam. Ironically, the next new thing for foodies is wringing their hands over food waste. Maybe they could come up with a better, safer solution for using those “cow parts.”

  • doc raymond

    Chuck, I am in your court all the way on this one and wrote a blog on it several days ago. just waiting for it to be posted.

  • Sara

    The idea that science should tell us what to eat is really ridiculous. Really, shouldn’t public distaste for a disgusting food product be reason enough not to eat it? Who cares what science backs it? People don’t know nearly enough about what they are consuming. If it’s gross and we don’t want to eat it, I think that SHOULD trump scientific claims vying for it’s safety. Why is “food safety” the target here instead of nutrition? No one’s talking about what irradiation does to the nutrition of the food because no one promoting the product cares about that.
    The difficulty is that the underlying problem – dangerous methods of production and mass processing of food products – is still a problem and the industry wants a really big band-aid like irradiation to cover it up without really addressing the issues and why the meat is unsafe to begin with. The industry is trying to hit the wrong target, no wonder they’re missing the mark.

  • Chuck

    Sara, you completely missed the point. No one should ever tell you what to eat and what not to eat. That should always be a personal decision. And the article did not say science should tell you to eat BPI’s product. It said people with no knowledge of an issue shouldn’t be making emotional pronouncements about the subject.
    Food safety is the target here because that’s the subject of Food Safety News.

  • Darwan

    Chuck, it is you who have missed the point. The issue is not necessarily that BPI’s product contains ammonia. It is whether BPI (or anyone else) disclosed this fact to consumers so they could make an informed decision about what they choose to eat. If the ammonia is so innocuous and beneficial, why did BPI go to such great lengths to conceal its presence in its products?
    If the greater good is so good, there is no need to hide from it.

  • Evets

    Darwan is correct. It is _BPI_ that sought to “manipulate[] public opinion.”
    Mr. Jolley’s propaganda turns a blind eye to BPI’s concerted efforts to avoid disclosing the presence of ammonia in its “boneless lean beef.” Did he really miss the New York Times article noting that a prison rejected this purportedly wholesome and safe product, because it reeked of ammonia?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?pagewanted=all
    This was a prison, ok? It’s the lowest rung of the foodservice industry. So the issue is not just of concern to high-falutin’ foodies.
    More importantly, innocent school children ARE being force-fed this “low-cost additive” in school lunch programs. Jolley cannot dispute that BPI failed to disclose to consumers the presence of this wholesome, safe, ammonia in the ground beef provided to school cafeterias.
    BPI may have been “upfront about the safety process” to government regulators, but it did so to avoid listing ammonia as an ingredient on the package, Mr. Jolley’s Orwellian doublespeak about “manipulated public opinion” notwithstanding.

  • Chuck

    Darwin and Evets,
    BPI doesn’t sell anything to the public so they can’t ‘fail to disclose to the public.’ And both of you seem to cling to the belief that BPI uses household ammonia. Another point – if you’ve ever been in a school cafeteria, you know you can’t forcefeed them anything. I didn’t miss the NYT article, either. I thought it was poorly researched and that smell could have come from a variety of sources. BPI’s product doesn’t reek of ammonia. You’re both speaking from emotion, not fact. Which was one of the main points I was trying to make.

  • Evets

    Chuck, your straw man arguments fail to address the key issues presented in my comment.
    1) Re: BPI’s failure to disclose to _consumers_ the presence of ammonia in its product, you asserted that BPI does not sell directly to consumers, so it could not be faulted for not communicating this to them.
    However, you concede BPI took affirmative, costly, and time-consuming steps to conceal the presence of ammonia in its product so that downstream processors and vendors would not need to disclose it on consumer product labels. Only BPI’s concerted efforts made this possible.
    I mean really, if the ammonia is so great, why not advertise it? Or at least disclose it on a label?
    2) Re: school children not being “force” fed (your term) ammoniated beef, again, you miss the key issue — neither the children nor their parents had the facts necessary to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to choose to eat this product. Why? Because BPI deliberately chose to hide this information from them. The free market works only when consumers have access to such information.
    3) Re: your assertion that BPI does not use “household ammonia,” there is no principled distinction between it and “ammonia hydroxide,” as both are simply solutions of ammonia and water. Tellingly, at least bottles of household ammonia disclose the product’s concentration. Consumers should have access to similar information on food labels.
    4) Re: deciding what to eat based on “emotion” versus “science,” your career as a food industry public relations professional depends on people doing exactly that. People choose to eat types and brands of foods for a number of emotional (and even religious) reasons that complement scientific justifications.
    Your choice of verbiage also has everything to do with emotion and zero to do with science. Specifically, describing BPI’s product as “lean boneless beef” made from “trim” that would have been “lost” only differs subjectively from describing it as “pink slime” made from “feces-covered carcasses” that would have been “made into dog food.”

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    I’ll give Food Safety News credit for allowing all sides to tell their story.
    And that’s the only credit I’ll give for this…fairy tale.

  • SharChall

    I am reasonably sure BPI paid you a nice sum to write this rubbish. Do your research, ammonium hydroxide is NOT reasonably safe. The bfact that the FDA sanctions it is all the more reason to be suspect. They have done little to nothing to ensure the safety & cleanliness of our food. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002491.htm

  • Peter

    This is just a nicer way of saying:
    Adding chemicals with special processing allows us to extract more value from the carcass. Regulators have proclaimed these processes safe, trust them.
    Allowing the food producers to maintain processing efficiencies will allow them to be more profitable which will also have some impact on minimizing retail prices – you like the $2 hamburger specials, right?
    You are not going to die from eating the product, in fact you will be safer. Don’t worry about any long term effects on your health – we’re not.
    $

  • Josh

    Chuck Jolley, President of Jolley & Associates, specialists in Marketing & Public Relations for the Meat & Poultry Industry… Need we say more.

  • Jake Mifflin

    Assuming there is no health problems associated with the amount of ammonia added to the beef, I have simple question for Chuck: if this product is perfectly healthy, would you eat a hamburger made of 100% “pink slime”?

  • Cherbil

    There is nothing wrong with this at all. Sure it’s gross (in the average consumer’s mind), but any kind of puree’d meat is kind of gross. At least this is a nice shade of pink.
    Now, the revelation that Taco Bell’s meat contains a significant percentage of sand – yes, sand, and enough that they bring in dump trucks of it – that’s pretty terrible. But, for the most part, this is just meat that we would not eat unless it was blended up and sneaked into our food…
    Like when my mom used to cut up celery really small so I didn’t know it was in the casserole… I hate celery, but not for any rational reason, so the tactic mostly worked.
    yes, fast food is bad for you… but this is not why.
    You want good cuts of meat all the time? Get ready for even more hormone-enhanced cows, rainforest slash-and-burn, and – in the long run – an even worse diet.
    When I was living in Asia, I regularly ate tripe, organs, pig’s ears and snouts, even whole duck and goose heads (beak included)… all the things that would make most Americans gag and choke if it wasn’t blended into a paste like this… You’d rather it all go in the garbage? you’d rather we spend HUGE amounts of resources raising energy-inefficient cattle, then throw away half the carcass and charge 10x as much for what we keep? HA! Get Americans to eat “by-products” as they are like everyone else in the world, and we won’t need the pink paste anymore.
    No, no… eating wholesome food is not for America, no way. Good cuts of wholesome food are expensive; in the rest of the world, normal people eat organs and heads not prime rib. Wholesome food looks ugly, and is rarely uniform enough in size and shape for a modern supermarket display.
    Hahaha… Seriously. Americans will never win, because they will never be able to overcome the deep delusions of their “normal” everyday life.

  • http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/01/cleverly-manipulated-public-opinion-trumps-real-science-again/ walt

    “Manipulated Public Opinion Trumps Real Science – Again”
    Try this:
    DO NOT manipulate the public’s food with “Science” that they would not approve of even it the FDA deems it safe and DO NOT add “Science” to food without our knowledge. I for one would like to make knowledgeable choices and not rely on others to tell me everything is OK. (it is until it isn’t).

  • Jerry

    Stop drinking the Koolaid. It is not about proving it is safe. It’s about the govermental manipulation (it considers this a process additive so as to not list it as an ingredient) not to mention the exeption the gov. gave them in inspections for awhile, the hiding it from the consumer, etc… As a consumer I want to choose if I want 3 cents more a pound for “real” hamburgers…

  • john chemistry

    Most of these comments are laughable. So what if you’re eating the offcuts? It won’t hurt you. Goddamn fat Americans and your manifest destiny. And furore over ammonia? It’s the dose not the poison. Ffs there’s cyanide in Apple seeds , but you know what? You would have to eat handfuls to die from it. The idiot who quoted the msds for ammonia would probably sh#t bricks if they saw the one for common table salt. People need to stop flipping out over chemicals, they’re everywhere, even inside you! Imma leave you with this, It’s great: THERE IS MORE AMMONIA IN FISH THAN PINK SLIME. Thankyou.

  • Tom

    I need to second what john chem said above, for the most part at least. I know he’s spot on about the chemistry. I worked in the meat industry for about a decade before a career change, and honestly I was usually impressed with the lengths that processors went through to provide a quality product.
    Let’s not forget that the people that work for these companies are human beings, just like you and me, and the last thing they’re trying to do is be part of some cover-up that could make people sick. In other words, if something was intrinsicly “wrong” with the product, it would have been someone from the BPI production line that would blow the whistle, not some goofy tv chef.
    Did you know that most of the chicken and ground beef you buy is packed in nitrogen, or some other inert gas? This is to kill bacteria (which preserves the food)… because invariably the same people that are so outraged about the use of this ammonium hydroxide are the same people that will file a company-destroying class-action suit when they get salmonella poisoning.
    What you the people REALLY don’t know is that 20+ years ago, you used to be able to get really good, custom made ground beef from any meat processor of repute, but now the potential legal liabilities of producing your own ground beef are so vast that most of it is now made by a few massive companies that MUST use extreme measures to make sure all of the bacteria is dead, because if they don’t they will BE BURNED AT THE STAKE.
    So you see, they can’t win. Every move is a bad one.
    You and me, the public, demand cheap ground beef. BUT we also demand that is perfect 100% percent of the time (or we’ll sue), AND we demand that the companies make it safe in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves (hell… maybe sunbeams and daffodils will kill the pathogens!), meanwhile 80% OF THE PLANET is starving, and once again we look like the hypocritical TOOLS that we are.

  • Ginger

    Tom, that was beautiful.

  • Tom

    Here is what I think is really at the core of this:
    Ground beef is, and always has been, well… ground.
    We’ve all had those moments where we were eating some 89 cent cheeseburger, and we stop and look at it and think: “This was 89 cents… WTF is this I’m eating???”
    It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to figure out it ain’t ground tenderloin(!) (which, ironically, wouldn’t taste as good anyway). But it IS perfectly edible, perfectly wholesome, and perfectly perfect for ground beef. It may be cow meat…it may be steer trimmings… who knows? Who cares? I would be curious to hear what the Germans think about this, they make sausage out of EVERYTHING. They wouldn’t even bother removing the lean from the fat, they would just grind it up, add some spices, stuff it in a SPLEEN, throw it on the grill, and tear it up.

  • Terry W

    Amen Tom!
    You know if people want to know everything little thing that goes into their meats, they even need to know every single thing the animal ate prior to processing (including the genetic strains of each plant or animal), where the animal lived, the particular breed, shot records (including antibiotics) and on and on…. The only possible way to know all that, is to grow your own food. Let’s not be stereotypical ignorant liberal extremists we need a middle ground. The government can’t possibly solve everything for the people.
    If you really don’t trust these companies then grow your own food. I have a garden and it’s awesome, it builds our family unity, saves us money, we know what we are growing and adding to it, it gets us out doors and gives us a little exercise! We still buy food at the grocery stores though, but with food prices rising we may need a bigger garden!

  • Tom

    Yeah, my wife(a vegetarian) and I grow our own veggies as much as possible, and I spend most of my free time gathering mushrooms, mmmmm…
    I truly believe the knee-jerk reaction to this is perfectly understandable. There have been problems recently with ground beef (there are problems with everything unfortunately, such is life). And when I first read the headlines, I’ll admit it freaked me the heck out, because there ARE companies out there that do questionable things. But like I said before, it’s rare for a company in the American food-supply stream (meaning a company where the owner’s kids are eating the product) to knowingly do something that will put the public’s health at risk, it’s just not good for anyone.
    The thing about this that upsets me (and hence compels me to write) is that here we are in the middle of a TOTALLY SCREWED economy, and we’re burning a company at the stake for doing exactly what they should be doing. And that means that a lot of people are probably going to lose their jobs (which are usually fairly good-paying, although the illegal alien “situation” in the food industry is a whole other kettle of fish). We’re punishing them for getting more food out of a carcass. I’ll tell you what, I would hate to see the look on their faces when they tour and smell the dry-aging room where those $40 loin chops come from!
    The other thing that gets me is this whole fixation on ammonia. First of all, saying that this is ammonia (and that Taco Bell meat has “sand” in it for that matter) is just wrong. It just IS. It’s a compound, in the same way that table salt is neither sodium (wildly reactive) nor chlorine (quite poisonous). It’s like saying I exhale charcoal. I’m not going to get into all of that too deeply because it’s been covered ad nauseum above, and no one pad attention to that, it won’t be any different if I do it. Second of all the largest single use of ammonia on the planet, I believe, is as a crop fertilizer which is used to cover the fields on which the entire food supply is grown. Maybe you’re an organic farmer? Ok, so you’re just using ammonia in a more crude form, but ammonia nonetheless. Maybe we should ban wheat, fruit, vegetables because of ammonia?
    The greatest irony of all is that the reason the USDA and the industry uses proper chemical names in the first place is to ensure the one thing they’re being accused of not doing–delivering a pure product to the masses. Because when you use ammonium hydroxide gas to process meat, that means there better not be a single molecule of anything else in there; if it was called “magic feel-good gas” it could be any damn thing.

  • Abraham

    Okay, Tom, I have to dispute some of the inaccuracies in your post.
    “First of all, saying that this is ammonia is just wrong. It just IS.”
    No, it’s not. They use ammonium hydroxide, which is simply a solution of ammonia and water, and which is commonly referred to as “ammonia”.
    It’s a compound, in the same way that table salt is neither sodium (wildly reactive) nor chlorine (quite poisonous).
    No, it is not a compound; the actual “compound” NH4OH doesn’t actually exist and cannot be isolated. NH3 (ammonia) is added to water, and it forms the ions NH4+ and OH-, which remain aqueous.
    “It’s like saying I exhale charcoal.”
    charcoal is a specific form of solid carbon, and bears no resemblance in structure or properties to carbon dioxide, which is a gas. This analogy is terrible.
    I am not sure how you came about your scientific information, but I can assure you it is wrong . I highly encourage you to look up everything I wrote in an actual science book or other reputable scientific authority, and to confirm for yourself the truth (other than my opinion of your analogy, which is of course opinion and not fact and thus cannot be verified).