You Can’t “Pink Slime” America Twice: Why ABC News is Struggling to Re-create a Food Safety Scare with Imported Shrimp
Can you slime American twice? You can try, according to Jim Avila and ABC News. Attempting to re-create its journalistic success from the “pink slime” story, ABC News recently ran a short segment on foreign shrimp and antibiotics, claiming that, in a recent random sampling, trace levels of 3 banned antibiotics were found in imported shrimp. The story, reported by ABC’s Jim Avila (who also reported on “Pink Slime” this year), states that the majority of shrimp consumed in the United States “is raised in small crowded pens on shrimp farms in far off countries like India, Thailand and Vietnam,” and under “shocking conditions.” But we’re not going to talk about the story. It’s reductionistic and incomplete and our partners in the industry have already done a great job dissecting it. The issue here is ABC’s coverage of a “food safety issue” that isn’t an issue at all.
No Slime to be Had?
ABC (and everyone else in the media) got lucky with beef. The “pink slime” fiasco, which has essentially destroyed a previously flourishing segment of industry, was a lucky break for journalists for a variety of reasons. The lack of other news stories, America’s heightened food safety fears related to orange juice and the colloquial catchphrase, “pink slime,” were all factors that made the story huge. Let’s be honest, if no one had called it “pink slime” no one would care. Period. But can you re-create this kind of coverage? ABC News is trying to do so with their “expose” on imported shrimp. But it’s not working. No one cares. Why is this?
• There are no celebrities making TV shows about shrimp production
• No one has coined an “icky catch phrase” for antibiotic residue in shrimp
• Americans are patriotic about beef but have no such emotional connection to shrimp
• We eat beef all the time, shrimp far less often
• Shrimp are ugly, cows are fun to look at (and make great mascots)
• Americans can only deal with a few shocking “I eat that?!” stories per year
So Jim Avila and ABC News are trying to conjure up another “pink slime” scare but with little success. The reasons above are certainly factors but the real takeaway here is that the media will not (and cannot to some degree) report the whole story. What gets communicated when ABC News or others talk about food safety is an incomplete laymen’s perspective, which, without the context, actually hurts the public (and the industry). But journalists need readers and no reader wants to digest 5 boring pages about chemical residue tolerances and shrimping methods, ergo, shocking headlines, short summaries, “gross titles,” and ultimately, 600 Americans out of work, 4 plants closing and increased food costs. America is in a strange place right now where the public is very interested in food safety and what we’re eating but does not have the appetite to digest the context and background to be able to understand what’s a risk (or not).