April 10, 2012

Five Ways The Pink Slime Industry Is Buying Influence In Government

Five Ways The Pink Slime Industry Is Buying Influence In GovernmentPink slime, the ammonia-treated filler substance made with beef scraps, was once reserved for dog food before corrupted regulators changed the rules. But a recent media firestorm has reignited the controversy, leaving many people asking why the U.S.D.A. does not require groceries, school cafeterias, or restaurants to disclose which products contain the mystery meat. Now with the battle over whether to require companies to disclose which food products contain this substance, it’s worth taking a more in-depth look at how the pink slime industry is again flexing its lobbying muscle. Last week, we introduced you to the lobbyists for the industry. Here is a list of other ways the industry is asserting itself as regulators and lawmakers reconsider how the product is labeled:

1. Increasing Lobbying Spending: Pink slime company Beef Products Inc. has more than quadrupled federal lobbying expenditures since 2009. Pink slime makers also lobby through the American Meat Institute, a multimillion dollar trade association that retains several firms on K Street along with its own advocacy staff.

2. Hiring Public Relations Firms To Aggressively Rebrand Pink Slime: Beef Products Inc. recently hired the public relations company Ketchum to lash back at critics. Republic Report has confirmed that Ketchum operates the pro-pink slime websites BeefIsBeef.com and PinkSlimeIsAMyth.com. Gaius Publius, a writer for AmericaBlog, caught anonymous commenters on his site using the same IP address who were sending readers to the Beef Products Inc. PR website.

3. Using Front Groups To Smear Opponents Of Pink Slime: Nancy Donley, the president of a group called Safe Tables Our Priority (STOP), has toured the country defending pink slime. She even appeared at recent press conferences in Iowa to lash out at the media for criticizing the product. As ABC News and the Atlantic have noted, Donley’s group is sponsored by at least $750,000 in donations from Beef Products Inc. The sponsorship information was stripped from Donley’s website in recent days. Infamous astroturf lobbyist Rick Berman, also known for being financed by the beef and poultry industry, is out vocally defending the pink slime industry.

4. Hiring Former Members of Congress To Thwart Government Oversight: One of the lobbyists now retained by Beef Products Inc., Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a former Democratic congresswoman from South Dakota, recently circulated a letter in Congress warning legislators not to take action on her client’s company.

5. Campaign Contributions To Pro-Pink Slime Politicians: One of the fiercest defenders of pink slime has been Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA), who received over $150,000 from Beef Products Inc. executives in his last campaign. A Des Moines Register investigation revealed that executives from the company have contributed over $800,000 in recent years to state and federal candidates. Beef Products Inc. CEO Eldon Roth, who is featured in one of Mitt Romney’s books, has contributed $180,000 to the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign. Congressman Steve King (R-IA), a top recipient of beef industry campaign cash, has pledged to hold hearings into why the media is scrutinizing the pink slime industry.

Michele Simon, a policy consultant with the Center for Food Safety, told Republic Report that pink slime companies are ramping up their efforts to block accountability into the industry. “The meat industry is very good at responding to this sort of crisis with PR,” said Simon. “They’re trying to tell the American public there’s nothing to see here.”

An infographic showing how the pink slime industry is spending more on lobbying can be found here.