By: Eric Mittenthal
Last week the South Dakota Supreme denied ABC News’ appeal of a lower court decision in BPI’s $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against the network concerning ABC’s Spring 2012 coverage of lean finely textured beef (LFTB). The case, which was stayed while the court considered ABC’s appeal, now proceeds to the discovery phase.
The latest news on the case sparked a new round of media coverage regarding LFTB, including stories by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post and unfortunately more misleading information. The Wall Street Journal article focused on the comeback story of LFTB as sales increase with beef prices at an all time high. Still, the lasting impacts of the widespread misinformation about the product remain apparent. In their story, Wall Street Journal reporters Jacob Bunge and Kelsey Gee use terms such as scraps or additive to describe the product, despite being misleading. The story also said critics were repulsed by images of LFTB, but initially did not point out that the image that repulsed so many and still is shared widely online isn’t actually LFTB. AMI urged that all of these issues be corrected.
Similarly, the Washington Post article by Gail Sullivan included the same bias at issue in the case. In response, we wrote, “Gail Sullivan writes that “Pink slime is the signature product of Beef Products Inc.” She puts no quotes or caveats around the term “pink slime” even though it’s the term that is at the heart of the lawsuit due to ABC News’ frequent use of the pejorative descriptor.
Sullivan also inaccurately reported that LFTB is made of “scraps and cartilage” when it’s not – it’s made from beef trimmings, which are the smaller pieces of fat and lean trimmed off the carcass when it is broken down into steaks and roasts.
In a letter to the editor, AMI told the Post, “It’s disheartening and ironic that the Post would report the case in this way especially considering the newspaper’s 2008 major feature story about LFTB by Annys Shin, “Engineering a Safer Burger.” Has the Post jumped on the “pink slime” bandwagon?”
We’ve written before about how words matter when discussing complex issues in the context of antibiotic use in livestock production, but LFTB is another clear example of why words matter. USDA and FDA have specific definitions of terms such as “additive” and “filler.” If the industry must abide by these for sake of accuracy in describing a product, shouldn’t the media follow suit? It’s also time to put the “pink slime” term to bed. The reality is, there is nothing slimy about LFTB. The negative connotation of the phrase “pink slime” shows bias and is an inappropriate way to describe a wholesome, safe, nutritious and USDA inspected beef product.