Pink Slime Controversy Tramples Big Beef

Another week, another headache for the pink slime industry. Almost a month after ABC News aired its investigative report about the ammonia-treated beef filler found in approximately 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets, the beef industry is struggling to overcome its little PR problem. As Ad Age reports, the general consensus among "communications, branding and food experts" is that pink slime's numerous adversaries have emerged triumphant, meaning that the beef lobby needs to get its act together if it wants to restore what minimal trust the public had in the product. As one branding honcho explained, "They left their branding flank open. ... They had an opportunity to describe this for the public in a nice way. They could have called it 'Pro-Leana' or something."

Instead, the industry's been on the defensive. BPI, one of the manufacturers of "lean beef trimmings" (pink slime's technical name), took out a cranky ad in the Wall Street Journal and put up a website, beefisbeef.com, where it reiterates, again and again, that its product is "wholesome and nutritious" and that ammonium hydroxide is found in plenty of other crap that Americans happily stuff in their mouths every day.

The problem, of course, is that while we eat plenty of products that contain ingredients few of us know exist, let alone can pronounce, there is no way to remove the visceral "ick" factor inherent in the term pink slime from the public's collective consciousness. When even McDonald's, that champion of high standards, announces it won't use your product, there's no way to put that toothpaste back in the tube. Instead, the public furor has led BPI to temporarily suspend operations at three of its manufacturing plants, and another pink slime producer, AFA Foods, to file for bankruptcy.

While all of this no doubt is cheering to opponents of pink slime and the processed foods industry in general, it's not good news for the group arguably most affected by the controversy: cows. As its name would suggest, beef filler creates greater quantity, meaning that if it's removed from the production chain, more cows will have to be slaughtered to make up for its slimy absence—1.5 million more per year, according to industry estimates.

So perhaps it would behoove the pink slime industry to make nice with PETA, a group that not only wants to see fewer dead cows, but is also famously well-versed in making statements that have a way of negating the original controversy by creating a far greater and more offensive one. Round up a naked Kardashian or two, churn out a kicky slogan, and you're off to the races. Assuming, of course, that your horse hasn't already lost.

Image source: Flickr member USDAgov under Creative Commons

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.