CRAIG Morris, deputy administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) Livestock, Poultry & Seed Program, posted an announcement on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's website about its new "USDA Tender" program.
The responses were a perfect example of how no good work by any government organization can get by a public that's afflicted by attention deficit disorder (ADD).
The program isn't all that difficult to comprehend. Morris posted this short definition: "USDA worked with academia and industry over the past several years to develop a system to determine beef tenderness using an objective scale to ensure that cuts with the new label consistently meet consumer expectations."
What the USDA Tender label solves is a tenderness perception problem.
Logic says the better the cut of meat, the more tender it should be. Choice should be a little chewy; Prime should be like "buttah."
For reasons that have nothing to do with the quality grade, that just isn't so sometimes, and the consumer has what's euphemistically called an unpleasant eating experience. To be blunt, the consumer is disappointed in his beef and decides chicken is a better choice.
To solve the problem, Morris and friends worked with academia and industry to develop a way to determine how consumers perceive beef cuts to be tender. It's an objective scale designed to ensure that beef cuts consistently meet specific standards.
"USDA is pleased to offer this new verification program that provides American producers with another marketing tool to promote their quality products," AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo said. "The tenderness label also gives consumers additional information to use when making their purchasing decisions."
The responses — excellent examples of today's internet-created ADD — missed the point.
For example, Suzanne Holcombe wrote, "Consumers are more interested in a 'humanely raised' certification than 'tender.' The USDA should work with its Animal Welfare Information Center on such a label for all meat inspected by the USDA."
Richard Kanak followed with: "Apparently, agribusiness has once again succeeded in getting the government to supply meaningless marketing support. They should be more concerned with the use of drugs in raising these animals. Meaningless smoke and mirrors marketing."
Understanding that the first two comments were an intellectual swing and a miss at the intent of the USDA Tenderness program, Mike Wallace said, "My advice to both previous commentors, before becoming self-appointed experts on the above article, you should have a working knowledge on the entire industry. In short, go out and buy enough land to start raising your own herd, then take a side job working in a meat packing plant or a feedlot."
The new USDA program plugs an unfortunate hole in the quality grading program.
The issues of a humanely raised meat label and the use of livestock drugs might be important to Holcombe and Kanak, but they are mistaking what's important to them with what's paramount to the public, and they forget that even the government is capable of looking at more than one issue at a time.
Saying consumers are more interested in humanely raised certification than tenderness? Even my friend Adele Douglass of Humane Farm Animal Care would scoff at that claim. It's important to a few but a non-issue to many others.
And calling the USDA Tender label "meaningless marketing support"? Making the purchasing proposition more transparent to the consumer by ensuring consistent satisfaction with the product strikes me as the kind of marketing support the beef industry needs.
*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.