In recent months, the beef industry in general, and BPI in particular, have fallen victim to a cultural and media firestorm that continues to do damage to the food industry.  Unfortunately, such trends go well beyond the hysterical falsehoods which have been widely disseminated by critics of lean finely textured beef, and are thus likely far from over. Rather, they may be an alarming harbinger of things to come.

The meat industry can, by its nature, be vulnerable to stories which play at people’s emotions. BPI is simply the latest victim in a chain of companies and products that have fallen victim and will fall again to activists and opportunists who invent irrational and inflammatory stories that feed upon people’s fears. 

BPI is a company that has been lauded by industry, government and consumer groups alike for their innovation and dedication to food safety. The company makes a safe product which not only decreases the cost of a hamburger but is also healthy and shown to enhance the texture and taste of ground beef. The public’s aversion to this product is a result of a massive and baseless smear campaign of misinformation and sensationalism — nothing more.

Despite the fact that millions of us have been safely and regularly consuming LFTB for more than 15 years, very few people outside of the industry had any idea what LFTB was until just weeks ago. The power of social media is demonstrated then, by the fact that a Google search for “pink slime” today yields more than 56 million hits. In just weeks, one of the most common ingredients in the food we eat — one that is safe and healthy — has been decimated in the court of public opinion.

It is the speed with which this can happen that is most alarming. This should be a wake-up call to industry as a whole. LFTB is not the first safe product to be unfairly and viciously attacked, and it will certainly not be the last. When LFTB stops selling advertisements and commercials or generating Web traffic, something else will most likely fill the void. Whatever product that is, the attacks will likely be untrue and unfair, but they will be reported nonetheless. The explosion of social media has allowed for anyone with a keyboard to reach millions of people in no time at all.

That can be a very scary prospect.                         

Companies throughout the processing industry must be wary of the threat posed by individuals who will say and do anything to generate controversy. The Internet has rendered the idea of journalistic ethics, in many cases, virtually moot. It is important to be prepared in the event that the safety and health of your own product becomes next on the chopping block.