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The Pink Slime Issue Gets Sticky
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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It all started in March with a former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist puckering up to a whistle and blowing for dear life. You see, he is the cat who shared his findings with ABCNews.com that "70 percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something called 'pink slime.'" And then, a legend was born. No, not Gerald Zirnstein, the aforementioned deep-throated canary. I mean the pink slime, the latest darling of the media and crisis communications case studies everywhere.

"It's economic fraud," he told ABC News. "It's not fresh ground beef...it's a cheap substitute being added in."

Strong words. I believe the term for "cheap substitute" is meant to share was fat, sinew, bloody effluvia and shreds of meat. Oh yeah...and ammonia. The once anonymous by-product known as "cheap filler" or "lean, finely textured beef" in your meat was once only reserved for dog food and cooking oil. Still doesn't make sense about all the hoopla, hype and ballyhoo? How's this description from Zirnstein's partner-in-crime, USDA scientist Carl Custer:

The pink slime is made by gathering waste trimmings, simmering them at low heat so the fat separates easily from the muscle, and spinning the trimmings using a centrifuge to complete the separation. Next, the mixture is sent through pipes where it is sprayed with ammonia gas to kill bacteria. The process is completed by packaging the meat into bricks. Then, it is frozen and shipped to grocery stores and meat packers, where it is added to most ground beef.

The largest manufacturer of this mash, Beef Products, Inc. of South Dakota (BPI), produces more than 7 million pounds of it per week. They have teamed up with the U.S. Beef industry to fight back against this "smear campaign." Of course, that didn't do any good as BPI announced it would "suspend operations at three of its four plants at a cost of 650 jobs in Texas, Kansas and Iowa. Moreover, Kroger and Safeway said they would no longer sell the product. Then, the death knell — Walmart refused to sell it as well. 

The next step was a Gubernatorial carnivore tour as the Grand Puba's from the aforementioned states — Rick Perry (TX), Sam Brownback (KS) and Terry Branstad (IA) — visited BPI and chowed down on some pink slime specials in front of national cameras. How did it go? Let Gov. Brownback tell you from a news conference at a nearby hotel:

"The activists' campaign used a 'catchy name' to discourage people from eating healthier beef. We're [the trio of Governors] trying to get people to eat better, and now what is going to happen because of this unmerited, unwarranted food scare, and that's what it is...you're going to drive up the price of lean ground beef." 

Yes, Governor. That and increase the National Federation of Vegetarians in every state probably. My thought is that if this was just a food scare, why are the largest grocers in the country kowtowing to the 'man'? And now, a very prominent woman is involved. No, not that one...her OWN network sucks and she had her flurry with beef already. No, I mean Wendy. Yes, that Wendy, as in the second-largest fast food joint in the country that took out a full-page ad in USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal and others entitled "Where's the Pure Beef? At Wendy's, that's where!" playing on its iconic catch phrase of the 80s.

Its spokesman Bob Bertini told Reuters in the linked story, "We have never used lean finely textured beef (pink slime) because it doesn't meet our high quality standards." Well, thanks Bob. I'm glad to know Dave Thomas' standards were far above the USDA, since that's the governmental agency that's been advocating this crap for decades. 

Certainly, every burger joint and grocer will follow suit and spin this topic until it pukes on itself. Crisis communications plans are in full swing. And investigative reporters are looking for the next slimy thing to cover. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. Pass the ketchup...and the rather large barf bag, please.


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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