My View From The Country

Once Again, Science Isn’t The Answer!

Our industry has to realize that we’ll never change activists’ thinking. We’re merely competing to shape the opinions of the open-minded majority.

With all the controversy about finely textured lean beef, the industry has rightly responded by providing good science to explain why these technologies are used to benefit consumers. However, we continue to fool ourselves about the drivers behind these controversies. 

The following quote, which I pulled out of an opinion piece this week, I think encapsulates the battle our industry faces in the public arena:

“We can't forget that the majority of ground beef in the U.S., even if free of said ‘slime’, comes from animals (35 million beef cattle, to be exact) that are treated miserably, processed by employees under horrible working conditions, and severely damages the environment. And, of course, there are also the rampant recalls and food safety concerns.”

I can’t begin to explain to you the motivation of these kinds of activists. I read their propaganda almost every day in hopes of gaining that insight, but they are simply anti-modern agriculture, anti-corporate, anti-livestock, anti-trade and anti-capitalist; and they are linked and committed. In their minds, they are making the world a better place, it is a war, and – for whatever reason – we are the enemy!

This individual’s whole point was that pink slime shouldn’t be a concern; it’s merely a symptom and the focus should be on the problem. In their mind, the problem is modern agriculture and free markets.

Of course, we must refute the inaccuracies with sound science, and we have to realize that we’ll never change the thinking of these activists. We’re all merely competing to shape the opinions of the open-minded majority who aren’t directly involved with our industry.

Nevertheless, we’re foolish to think that the masses are going to take the time to sort through the specifics and nuances of competing scientific studies. The perceptions of pink slime and premature death will trump any amount of logic and scientific data to the contrary.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Mar 16, 2012

Hey Troy. First off, I totally agree that Science is not the answer to most of the problems we face. We need to implement solutions and (cheesy as it may sound) figure out where we share common ground with those crazy "activists" out there. You seem to imply that we don't face any problems and our food isn't causing negative side effects, but it is:

Last I checked, there is still a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico about the size of Indiana (and growing). When we feed grains to cattle, we support that dead zone because grains require (in our current production systems) nitrate and rock phosphate. As far as I'm aware, these two inputs are the main cause of the dead zone. We do what we can to limit their run-off, because those inputs aren't free, but agriculture covers a lot of acres and its in our economic interest as farmers to err on the side of "too much" if it helps secure a good crop.

You seem to be arguing that "they" are painting the readers of Beef Magazine as the enemy. News flash #1: no one is trying to paint ranchers (which, I understand are your primary readership) as the enemy. They have little to do with what happens after they sell their stock to processors or CAFOs. Industrial agriculture has a history of trying to pass off food additives as food; pink slime is just the most recent example. News flash #2: Most of those "activists" are just normal moms that maybe read a couple news articles about "pink slime" or "high fructose corn syrup" or other things that may not be super good for their kids.

Farming/ranching aren't under threat. What people are really concerned about is secrecy and lack of accountability in their food system. So please skip the tirade against "anti-livestock activists." Increasing amounts of Americans are concerned about where their food comes from. In the end this will probably help a lot of farmers and ranchers, particularly those that reach out to their consumers using innovative direct-marketing tools on the web. If they skip the industrial food system where pink slime sometimes gets substituted for real beef, that's fine by me.

on Mar 16, 2012

I wonder how much controversy there would be about this subject if it was called "finely textured lean beef" instead of "pink slime"?

"Pink slime" suggests that this is automatically something to fear without even knowing what it is. I didn't know what it was and I read several references explaining what it was and that satisfied me. As an engineer (retired), facts and data are what I use to guide my decision processes. Emotions take a back seat.

That said, most consumers don't so that. They react to "talking heads" on their TV screens to tell them what's right and wrong! In my opinion, the country is "dumbed down' and virtually incapable of looking into controversial issues independently and reaching their own conclusions. That's the reason why science doesn't trump bull feces!
We see it in this issue, in "global warming", environmental issues, and virtually everywhere. We have have "junk science" that makes the news media whereas solid scientific information is buried on page 16 because the news folks would't know solid scientific work if they tripped over it, let alone be able to interpret it. We only get one side of the story and not the whole of the information and that causes bad decision making.

People in the business of agriculture are a relatively small part of the population and we are pulled in so many different directions and it seems like we are always made out to be the "bad guys". We bow our necks and get on with it.

Our commodity organizations, Farm Bureau, NCBA, etc and their lobbyists need to get out infront and provide this info to the public and refute the false information that is shouted in the media on a regular basis. These organizations need to form a "tiger team" to quickly respond to a lot of these nonsensical claims made by the anti-agriculture crowd. Those of us working the ground or our livestock are stretched to the max and we can't do it. (Half the time we don't even hear about it for weeks after it occurs.)

As long as issues are sensationalized, reported by the media without being evaluated as to how factual they are, aggriculture will continue to have these disconnects between consumer and the providers of our food. If we as an industry keep doing what we have been doing, we will keep getting what we are getting.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2012

“Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.”
― Temple Grandin, Thinking In Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life With Autism

It is a very apt quote. I've used it or similar to remind people that they owe thier existance to agriculture, and without it, they would be dead. BTW: Even vegitarians kill to survive.

Doug (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2012

Should U.S. beef producers defend the use of BLBT in ground beef?

I answered "Yes" to this poll, but the beef processors should be doing the defending. This issue is not of my making and I certainly cannot change my operation to stop the use of this product.

The quite simple answer to this issue is for beef processors to market (ie clear labels and clear price points) hamburger with and without BLBT. Only then can we see the value and benefit this practice has for the consumer.

Until then, this is a game of he said vs. she said and nobody really know where they stand.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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