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ABC’s Avila Launches Fishy Food Attack

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ABC’s Jim Avila launches another anti-food report.

When I hear “pink slime,” I can’t help but shudder; the catchphrase is at the center of a $1.2-billion lawsuit -- Beef Product Inc. (BPI) vs. ABC News. When the TV network aired a defamatory report earlier this year against BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB), it resulted in hundreds of jobs lost, three plants closed, a widespread hysteria across the nation about the safety of beef, and, oh yeah, probably a boost to ABC reporter Jim Avila’s career.

It’s no secret that sex, scandal and scare tactics sell, and the mainstream media is eager to rake in that cash. With today's consumers demanding more information about the products they feed their families, food can be a good candidate for portrayal as the “new tobacco.”

I’m all for transparency and accountability in the food industry, and I work hard to do a good job of accurately representing and explaining the beef I raise when I write about it on this blog. But, I’m also against reporters who play on people’s emotions with erroneous reporting that is short on facts.

That’s exactly what I think Avila is doing in his latest report. According to the Media Research Center (MRC), the "beef bully" is claiming that a new breed of fish could cause cancer, but cites no evidence or research in his report.

“Avila’s latest bogie-food is a new breed of salmon he worries could cause cancer, and he’s going after the company aspiring to market it. But, as usual with Avila’s reporting, something seems fishy. Avila’s shark attacks appeared on ABC’s Nightline and World News on Dec. 4,” MRC says.

“The salmon, the brainchild of the multinational biotech company AquaBounty, have been modified to reach their full size more quickly than wild salmon. This is accomplished by adding a gene from another type of salmon and one from a type of eel. The fish are kept in a secure environment described by both Avila and Aquabounty as ‘Fort Knox,’ in order to prevent them from escaping into the wild. The salmon are also sterilized, as an added protection against them contaminating the existing wild salmon population. The company is currently waiting for FDA approval.

“Avila began his attack on AquaBounty in almost the exact same way that he began his attack last March on BPI’s LFTB stating that “critics” call the salmon “frankenfish.” While not as compelling as 'pink slime,' – the name he incessantly used for BPI’s product – the mad-scientist reference was clear. For those viewers insufficiently frightened by salmon monsters, Avila conjured dinosaurs, repeatedly alluding to the Jurassic Park franchise.”

Hopefully, AquaBounty is ready and able to not only defend itself, but adequately explain its practices in an open dialogue with consumers; it’s the only chance they have against a sensationalist media intent on scaring every viewer they can round up. I encourage you to do your own research and know the facts, whether it’s buying beef, fish or laundry soap. Base your purchasing decisions on real information, not media hype.

What do you think about this latest report? Is it “Frankenfish” or just inaccurate reporting? You decide.

Discuss this Blog Entry 8

Pam Mandelko (not verified)
on Dec 11, 2012

If people were aware of how much more of a threat that all the unvaccinated people in this country pose then the use of antibiotics in our cattle, there would be mass histeria. The Superintendent of Chadron Public Schools has been sending the kids home that do not have all their shots up to date, which I think is a very smart move. It will protect all the others that try to do the right thing. Places where there are large populations of immigrants tend to have disease that have usually been irradicated for many years. Maybe you could investigate this thought. Thanks.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 13, 2012

Who do the unvaccinated people pose a threat to? If vaccines are effective, then the vaccinated people shouldn't get the disease even if they are exposed to it. So the only ones who would be threatened are the others who are not vaccinated. And those people should be expecting it.

Sean Tibbetts, PhD (not verified)
on Dec 11, 2012

Thank-you for writing this article. We need more of this type of discussion around the media's coverage of developments in food science. I felt the same about all the media attention surrounding AquaBounty's salmon.....the media put frightening images in front of people that are just plain wrong. I thought the media was supposed to present unbiased journalism....American media is the worst, but as a Canadian, we are not much better. Consumers, educate yourselves and then form your own opinion. Do not buy into this fear-mongering by the likes of ABC news!

Innsbrook (not verified)
on Dec 12, 2012

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not the ignorant among us, it is the illusion of knowledge being spread to the ignorant among us by those who have a hidden agenda, be it political, economic or social. Jim Avila has adopted this technique in his food reporting. I suspect his agenda is based on economics (career advancement). Sensationalism and fear mongering in food reporting advances one a lot quicker than simply posting exciting new recipes for braised beef ribs.

W.E. (not verified)
on Dec 12, 2012

Amanda, the issue over lean finely textured beef is really greed vs. transparency—big industry trying to promote low-value leftovers as quality human food for higher than deserved profits, at the expense of the reputation of beef as the excellent high-quality protein source that it really is.
I'm guessing you are far too young to remember the Wendy's commercial featuring Clara Peller shouting "Where's the Beef," or the "Parts Is Parts" commercial that hurt the chicken industry and helped the beef industry during the 1980s, or the Oprah controversy during the 1990s that left the feedlot beef industry with a very public black eye. Responsible production, going out of our way to do what is best for the consumers of our products, and truth in advertising will be the only way that cattlemen can keep the rightful market share that beef deserves. The more gaffs and attempted media manipulations (like "Mad Cow" and "LFTB") that the Big Beef industry makes, the more market share real cattlemen will lose. Perception should be based upon reality, not manipulation, P. R., and lawsuits.
If we want to meet the needs and desires of our customers, we will pay attention to what they say they want and need, instead of trying to manipulate them with propaganda. What our customers want for their families is good honest food with as few intervening processes and potential dangers as possible. So let's feed our cattle on clean, green, well-managed pasture, in a manner that enriches our land and protects our water rather than polluting them, and that requires no antibiotics, steroids, hormones or hidden secret processes.
Let's market more of that beef locally, employing more people in small, clean meat processing facilities that are accountable directly to customers they serve face-to-face. Let's be sure our children are eating beef made from whole cuts with no need for chemical or heat extraction. Let's use the finely textured scrapings to furnish better protein for hungry pets, as it used to, instead of feeding the dogs corn meal and our children the trimmed stuff that used to go to make dog food.
The greed of big processors like BPI, trying to literally grind more profit out of every piece of connective tissue, has come back to bite them—along with the rest of us, who are trying to do our best to raise our cattle responsibly and produce high quality, satisfying beef for people who enjoy the pleasures and benefits of eating meat.

on Dec 15, 2012

Thank you for your posting.

As a city dweller who loves beef, I sometimes worry about what's in it. Lately, I've solved that by buying directly from a rancher who I know and trust. His cattle are grazed on his ranch, and finished on barley grown there. They never hit the feedlot, and there are no hormones or pesticides or chemicals or added ammonia or "slime" of any color. I pay half of what I would in the store, and he makes twice what he'd get at auction. And I can taste the difference between what I get from him and what I get in the store. His is better.

This weekend I'll be sending him and his wife a Christmas card. It will say: "Thanks for the friendship and the food." I love beef, and I am grateful for the people who feed me, and that I actually know the people who raise the beef I eat. I am so lucky to actually know them, and to have visited them has made me much more receptive to their viewpoints on a number of things.

Now to the frankenfish. I'm sorry, Amanda, but I am highly skeptical of these farmed salmon that grow twice as fast through modern chemistry.

You see, not only do I buy my beef straight off the ranch 300 miles away, but I happen to live a mile from the docks where they unload the wild fish caught in the waters of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. A few times a year, I walk around the docks to thank them for feeding me well.

I can taste the difference between a wild salmon and a farmed salmon. I don't want to eat a fish that someone tweaked to grow twice as fast or twice as big. I am a real person and I want to eat real food.

Now to my veggies. In the summer time, I eat the salads that I grow. I'm here to tell you that there's nothing like eating from your own garden. I worry about the stuff I get at the store at other times of year, and can only hope it's real. Even the "organic" designation is suspect, from what I've been reading.

I realize that "purity" is an unattainable goal. I'm not the nutcase that my prior words here might imply. I also realize that food quality now is higher than it was in the past. But that's only because we have a balance between the food industry and its regulators, and in recent years I worry that the balance has tilted too far toward the industry.

Finally, I'd like to say that I'm not automatically against large enterprises. In fact, some of these small organic producers of raw milk and cheese made from it are among the most dangerous sources of food. I can't claim to be consistent all the time, but please don't try to tell me that a super-sized farmed salmon is all fine and dandy, because it's not. And beef slime (oops, "LFTB"), no thanks.

on Dec 16, 2012

LFTB is the same as any other ground beef.
It starts out as prime rib.
It's not about nutrition, it's not about food safety,
it's about the price of 9 minutes of air time sold on the evening news.
Avila is willing to destroy the reputation of perfectly good, safe healthy product and the business behind it for the purpose of raising the price of those 9 minutes.
Food borne controversy is the topic of choice, it gets extreme public reaction. Regrettably the public can be incited to hysteria very easily with misinformation because they really don't know all they should about food and how it's grown and processed

on Dec 17, 2012

Europe and the U.K. ban it, and Canada is much more restrictive. I love our ranchers, but things like pink slime, the various hormones and other crap used in feedlots, "beef glue," and God only knows what other tricks, are why I don't trust the food processors.

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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