Recent history has shown that whenever the meat industry gets into the headlines, little good can come from it. The most recent example has been the “pink slime” nonsense that has turned a perfectly usable and good product into a taboo item. The real shame of it has been the fearmongering and inaccuracies that have been a part of way too many news stories about the boneless lean beef trimmings.

It’s to be expected from the “I don’t eat meat and neither should you” crowd or bloggers who pick up on those reports and react (or overreact) accordingly. No, it’s the consumer media who have continued to print inaccurate, one-sided reports, either for sensationalism or due to a breakdown of basic fact-checking. If I see one more reference to “floor cleaner” in regards to the ammonium hydroxide treatment that is used on the beef, I will scream.

So what should the meat industry do? Retreat further behind a veil of secrecy? That’s been tried, and all it’s done is make it easier for the public to believe the worst about the industry. Furthermore, there are all too many people who won’t hesitate to speak up about “shocking secrets” about meat and the processing industry. They’re very good about slanting their stories, and it puts the meat industry on the defensive when they speak up first.

Ordinary consumers are showing more curiosity about their food as well. While there are plenty of people who just want to buy their hamburger patties and pork chops at a decent price and not worry about any ethical dilemmas, there is a growing minority who want to know more about where their meat came from and how it was made.

The industry is already taking positive steps to becoming more transparent. There are packages of meat that now come with barcodes. Shoppers can scan the barcode with their phone and find out information about the farm where that particular animal was raised. More and more meat companies are interacting with their customers through social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter. I’ve spoken with companies who organized public tours of their facilities or spoke to local television news shows, and the resulting publicity was very positive.

The meat industry associations, including the AMI and the brand-new NAMA, have done a good job of defending the industry’s practices, but they can’t be the only ones. If more companies are willing to open their doors and talk about their operations, consumers might not be so inclined to believe every false report about the industry. Of course there’s a risk involved with talking to the media (except for honest and trustworthy members of the media – like me), but if the industry doesn’t start talking, others will.