retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported last week about the decision by Beef Products Inc. (BPI) to sue ABC News, saying that the network engaged in "false and misleading and defamatory" journalism about lean, finely textured beef - better known as "pink slime" - that it says created the illusion that the filler was unsafe, which then resulted in the company losing 80 percent of its business, closing three of its four US plants and firing 700 employees.

MNB user Paul Gillis responded:

I think that BPI have every right to go after the new agency that chose to slant the view of this product and develop the report for the sensationalism of the circumstance.  As you said, BPI was doing nothing wrong, illegal, immoral or deceptive.  They were using a patented, scientifically approved, endorsed and proven procedure that actually made the product safer for the consumer.  It was approved by the government and was accepted industry wide.

That is until someone decided to assign it a repulsive name and then misrepresent it as hunks of "old meat" that were "bathed" in ammonia and other chemicals to disguise the product and slip it into our meat supply. THAT is what ABC was doing.  BPI explained the procedure but the media continued to pound on the story with no reflection on the company's standpoint.  If the media is not held accountable to present a story with both sides when it is available then that is just wrong.  Who's next in line for the media to crush.

I don't think most people want to know the nitty gritty of how a product is made or how the ingredients are manufactured as long as it has been deemed safe through thorough testing and approval processes.  If they do maybe we have to begin attaching a pamphlet (sort of a pharmacy approach) to every product sold in the world explaining exactly how it was made, how he ingredients were made, how it was produced, how it was shipped and handled, what the potential side effects can be and possible interactions with other foods as well.    As they say on ESPN....COME ON' MAN !!!!!

Another MNB user wrote:

This is a perfect example of news trying to be entertainment.  No one was hurt by the stuff.  It was just a good story that made an “evil corporation” look bad.  How many people lost their job over no one getting hurt?  It is amazing to see the big networks falling to Fox News.  My grandfather a lifelong viewer of ABC has even made the switch to Fox.  He said he is tired of the same old thing.  Funny my 80 year old grandfather saying he is tired of the same old thing.  This is why they have to try to entertain and not report the full news.  The BPI side of the story was not as sexy because in ABC news’ eyes they were the evil corporation even though they employed those 700+ people.

Hmmm... it never occurred to me to think that ABC - which is, after all, owned by Walt Disney - would have such antipathy for big corporations and think of them reflexively as being evil.

I may have to rethink my whole world view.

MNB user Glenn Cantor countered:

In reference to Beef Products Inc. losing 80% of its business because they let outsiders name their product “pink slime,” we often get so caught up in internal perceptions of our business, including our own terminology and acronyms, that we lose sight of how outsiders perceive our business.  People, in general, have a tough time seeing outside themselves.  In this case, outsiders identified an unknown additive that was best described as pink slime.  It was, indeed, hidden from consumers.  If it wasn’t hidden, we would have all been pleased that beef producers were doing something to kill bacteria in meat.

In today’s world, it is necessary to understand, recognize, and define perceptions.  Otherwise, it will be done for you.  Quite frankly, if you are in the business of making “pink slime” that people eat, you’d better have a back-up.

I wrote last week that regardless of whether "pink slime" is safe to eat or not, BPI's real problem is that it allowed - by not disclosing the existence of and rationale for lean, finely textured beef - other people to define it.

Which led one MNB user to write:

That strikes me as being terribly naive.  No matter how you "define yourself," you're still always vulnerable to being demonized by some nut who creates anxiety among the ignorant. California's attempted attack on GMOs is a perfect example.

Well, of course you are. That's not the point.

The point is that if you are upfront about your ingredients and everything that goes into your products, you leave less room for others to maneuver and define you. Transparency is not a cure-all or a magic bullet, but it is both a strong offense and effective defense.

MNB user Linda Allen chimed in:

I am in Milan and reading your newsletter, along with the news from Libya and around the world re rioting, death and destruction in the name of showing "disapproval of an action of the USA."

With no disrespect to MNB, you will agree these events are at quite different levels of gravity for us all. However,I could not help but be struck by your opinion that the problem for the beef industry was failing to define itself/a product (or one's country.) And that as a result, others will do so in a negative manner.

As so many reports have indicated, the USA has been making monumental efforts to define ourselves positively: both in words and in deeds. We are both "good and bad", of course.

However, what is the answer to making this effort and then to be confronted with "receivers of the definitions" who, for reasons of their own, prefer to see only the negative. And worse, to hypocritically turn an event or subject to serve their own selfish interests.

To me, this is an increasing problem in both something such as the beef incident, and far more tragically for the damage done (using the video "definition" instead of another more positive one) to millions in need in these countries and the Americans working to try to assist.

We all spend a lot of time wringing our hands over the disagreements that typify US politics, but I think if nothing else, the tumult that we've seen overseas over the past week or so puts it all in context.

In this case, I do think you are comparing apples and oranges. It may be that no matter what the US does, it will never be able to define itself effectively and positively to some cultures. But that is a far harder task than food companies simply saying - completely, accurately and transparently - what is in their foods.

On the subject of the NYC jumbo soft drink ban, one MNB user wrote:

God, don't we have more important things going on in the world then to worry about what size drink I decide to buy.  I agree that it is education at an early age but it is also parental responsibility to teach children the right way to eat.  And it they aren't taught at home or decide to ignore their parents (although we know that never happens) at an early age and they develop the negative habits, then we all have a mind of our own and can learn and make informed decisions.  Ultimately, I choose what to put in my body.  When do we all take responsibility for what we do and the actions that we take.  And what about the things in our life that we know kill us....liquor, cigarettes and the like.  Cigarettes have been proven to kill us but no one has the guts (I really wanted to say balls here but it's your column) to take on that beast.  Why not fine someone $200 for selling cigarettes.   Mr. Bloomberg, take the money that you spent thus far and will waste on enforcing an ignorant law and spend it in the schools to teach nutrition and basic healthy eating   That's what we need done.

I need a drink....a 32 ounce Diet Coke sounds good about now!

I think you're okay with that ... Diet Cokes are not affected by the ban.

I marveled last week about how Citibank now is emailing ATM receipts to customers, which led one MNB user to write:

Wells Fargo has been e-mailing receipts for both deposits and withdrawals for quite a while. Also, their ATM’s remember your last withdrawal transaction, so if you want to withdraw the same amount of cash all you do is enter your PIN and press the last transaction and you get your cash and the receipt is e-mailed.

So, apparently the Citi does sleep sometimes?

And responding to my suggesting that all retailers need to offer emailed receipts to customers, one MNB user wrote:

Kmart offers email receipts, and has for over a year now if memory serves me correctly.  Of course, you’d have to shop at Kmart to know that.

Point taken.

On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

I've been harassing you for years about GMOs and it's one battle I chose to focus on. We may not be able to fight every battle, but this one affects potentially every body and it's planetary, not just national.

I see the seductive argument that this should be a national, not state, issue. BUT! If we were to wait until the federal government takes up the standard on GMOs , it could be years - even decades! And meanwhile, the USDA and the FDA are approving and allowing genetically modified alfalfa, soybeans, salmon, tomatoes, potatoes, patented seeds , and much more, to permeate the food chain, to the point if no return.

So I say, GOOD FOR YOU, CALIFORNIA, for adding Prop 37 to the November ballot! Sympathies are overwhelming for its passage regardless that opponents may end up spending ten times -Not twice the amount, ten times the amount - that prop 37 proponents will spend!

And I say, shame on you, Whole Foods, take a stand and walk your talk!

I do have a mild concern, that it opens the door for a legal feeding frenzy, similar to what has happened Prop 65, intended for water purity and avoiding excess lead. The greedy legal profession has found loopholes to make themselves rich, that have nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with money. But just simply labeling foods that have ingredients with GMOs is informing the consumer, and the consumer and market will decide.

Finally, I have to say that I love getting emails like this one, from MNB user Lindy Bannister:

You make me laugh at least once during the morning news! What a great change from reading or listening to mainstream media!! You are good for the heart!
Then my work here is done.
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