Few people remember the renowned “Pink Slime” lawsuit between a company named Beef Products Inc. and ABC/Disney. BPI sued ABC/Disney for referring to their product they called “lean finely textured beef” (processed beef trimmings treated with ammonia) as “Pink Slime” during a 2012 broadcast. BPI sued for $1.9 billion in damages for lost business. They settled for a payout of $177 million.
The back story is even better. LFTB was for years regulated as being suitable for “limited” human consumption in the US, though it was and still is banned by the EU. Along came the corporate friendly GW Bush administration, and suddenly in 2001 the ammonia treated beef was allowed to be sold country wide as a beef product, without being included on the ingredients label. In 2002 USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein came up with the descriptive term “Pink Slime,” and emailed his colleagues that “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.” Zirnstein was overruled, naturally.
By 2004 the rules concerning LFTB were relaxed even further by the USDA, and school hamburgers were allowed to contain up to 15% LFTB, without any labeling. By 2008 students were unknowingly eating 5.5 million pounds of LFTB per year, until there was a temporary suspension of use due to E. coli contamination. However, it was only temporary, until August of the same year, when E. coli was found in LFTB products for a third time, and the USDA stopped shipping to schools. By this time an estimated 75% of US hamburgers include LFTB.
By 2011 the stuff begins to hit the fan, as Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is the first nationally broadcast media production to highlight the widespread use of LFTB in school lunches. Then comes the 2012 ABC news story and the subsequent lawsuit. Finally, in 2018 BPI gets to take a victory lap–the USDA ruled that their new and improved beef product, without the fine texture, could be labeled as “ground beef.” Just don’t call it LFTB or “Pink Slime” anymore.
What has this got to do with the news industry? An old nickname has been re-born, as corporate sponsored propaganda packaged as news (most of what’s broadcast) has been dubbed “pink slime.” The slime part is easily understood, and the pink makes it memorable. The analogy is to insist that your name for something is the right one, reality or no reality, and sue any one important who disagrees. Remember the old joke about the news? The news industry treats citizens like they’re mushrooms, by keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure.
So money as speech is reaching its logical conclusion. The best example was the multi billion dollar lawsuit over the meaning of the word sugar. It was Big Ag (corn syrup) vs. Big Sugar (cane and beets), with Big Sugar winning. Corn syrup is still corn syrup, not sugar. Big Ag vs. your average citizen–not happening, as it isn’t worth either’s time. Just lay out the facts and let the people choose. Enough of them will pick slime, as long as they don’t know what it really is.