Beef Products Incorporated (BPI) is suing ABC News and other media outlets for defamation. This, after news reports about its products earlier this year led to the company’s bankruptcy. BPI manufactures lean finely textured beef, but the nickname “Pink Slime” is the common vernacular.
The company is suing for $1.2 billion in damages! It claims that about 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements were made about its product which is a very cheap meat added to ground beef . To be more accurate, the product is a collection of the filthiest beef trimming scraps left over from meat packing plants. These trimming have their fat removed, then are ground and treated with ammonia to kill off potential pathogens. There is controversy as to the efficacy of the manufacturing process in elimination e coli bacteria. The calibration of the ammonia amount injected into the beef has been problematic – some consumers have complained of strange smells in their ground beef.
The term “pink slime” was coined in 2002 by a USDA microbiologist who wrote
“I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”
The New York Times ran an expose on pink slime in 2009, but it did not garner much public attention. But earlier this year, a food and policy blogger in Houston Texas started an online petition to have pink slime removed from her child’s school lunch. The campaign went viral and was picked up by ABC news. Supermarkets notified BPI that they would no longer be selling the products. Within weeks, the business collapsed.
No matter what efforts the management (and hired gun politicians) made to rectify the situation, the PR damage had been done. BPI and pink slime are history. Even Google sponsored links are not going to change the public’s perception.
The lesson for other food manufacturers should be straightforward. In this day and age, you can’t hide information from the public. Be very open about what you are manufacturing, what ingredients you use, and how you are using them. The more transparent you are, the more trust you will gain.