Remember when the "Pink Slime" story blew up this spring? As a refresher, pink slime is that "boneless lean beef trimmings" that gets sprayed with ammonia and mashed up. ABC News broke the story that 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets contains pink slime and the backlash was MASSIVE. Several fast food restaurants stopped using it. The plant closed temporarily. And we wondered why it was still in our kids' school food.
But then BPI, the company that produces pink slime, decided enough was enough. They announced today they're suing ABC News for defamation. And Diane Sawyer, and two other correspondents, and a former BPI employee who was interviewed, and a food scientist, and Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who first coined the term "Pink Slime." Can I please be the first person to say this is all very SLIMY of BPI?
Dan Webb, BPI's attorney, says ABC's reporting "caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all – that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat." ORLLY, Dan?
I think we all still know pink slime is technically beef -- it's just not the sort of beef we want to eat. I do recall a food scientist saying that nutritionally it's not the same as whole-muscle beef because it's made from connective tissues. As for "hiding it in the meat," what else would you call it when you don't label ground beef that contains "lean finely textured beef"?
BPI lost 80 percent of its business in 28 days. That's gotta smart. And I can see why they'd want to retaliate.
Here's the thing, though. If you're making a product that people don't want, you go out of business. It's the cruel, harsh law of capitalism. ABC News exposed a food ingredient they thought the public should know about. It's their job to do that. If we punished the news every time they told us something unpleasant -- but true -- where would we be? (By the way, ask blogger Bettina Elias Siegel what kinds of freaky trolls come out of the woodwork every time she reports on pink slime.)
I think ABC will be all right. Their Senior Vice President says, "The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously." And I'd like to just remind us all what happened when the beef industry tried to sue Oprah Winfrey.
As a meat lover I think we deserve high-quality meat. And we have the right to know exactly what's in our food, whether it's pink slime or genetically-modified organisms. Someday, I hope, we'll live in an age of transparency and integrity with our food. But until then, we definitely need news outlets to continue reporting on the very food we use every day to sustain ourselves and our families.
Do you think BPI has much of a case at all?
Image via AlisonBlair2/Flickr