Lessons From the LFTB Incident

April 11, 2012 01:38 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

From Vilsack to ABC News

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The sorry situation involving a healthy product, Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), has some lessons that hopefully the business of agriculture – and government officials – have learned. Again. They include:

1. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's initial response to the matter was not the right approach. It should have been a teaching moment for Vilsack, but he again showed he tends to knee-jerk in fast-pace situations (think Shirley Sherrod). The Ag Secretary, rather than giving public schools the flexibility they called for regarding LFTB, instead should have stated what he did several days later during a meeting with several state governors and other high-ranking officials. But by then it was too late. Vilsack should have known better to respond as a "purchaser" for AMS — because USDA is known first and foremost as the meat/poultry food safety agency. Holding a press conference a week later -- only days before a company declared bankruptcy — was way too late.

2. The beef industry waited too long to respond. This incident actually broke around a year ago. The days of 24/7 "news" shows that all industries must monitor not only the internet (more on that, later), but the food industry must monitor and challenge the entertainment chefs on cable programs when they distort the facts. That wasn't done. Meat industry groups must become more adept at identifying potential problem areas and be better able to pounce when needed with facts and analysis. I just hope the same effort would be used on this matter as some in the industry who spend a lot of time urging repeal of the estate/death tax.

3. Social media is not so social. We have learned, again, that there are few if any checks on what is said or "reported" on the internet. That means the business of agriculture must monitor various sites for inaccuracies and correct them as soon as possible.

4. ABC News has gone tabloid. I used to like Diane Sawyer. But she and others at ABC News have brought a hyped-up atmosphere to the news with the push for the scandal-of-the-day. I fully realize that approach "sells" -- it just doesn't help sell beef.

5. Who didn't go on the attack on LFTB is just as important than those who did. A list of consumer-oriented groups held their fire on the LFTB incident – for good cause: it wasn't based on science and facts. Some consumer groups realized that credibility is based on science — and there was no science involved with this whole event. They likely knew that ammonia hydroxide has been a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) product for decades, used in gas form to kill pathogens (i.e., salmonella and e.coli).

6. More skirmishes ahead. If the beef or meat industry groups and related businesses think this is an isolated incident, then they are in dreamland. Warning for the meat/poultry industry: Processes and GRAS products that have been used by the industry for years are now "fair game" to media attacks. This is just another of coming incidents if reason doesn't prevail.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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