A Message – and a Warning — to Commenters

by Bettina Elias Siegel on April 3, 2012

Despite the fact that this is a personal blog and I have absolutely no obligation to provide readers with a forum for free expression, my approach from Day One has been to welcome dissent here so long as it is civilly expressed.  And in almost two years of blogging I have had to censor, at most, two or three comments which violated that policy.

But in the last few days, as the beef industry’s PR counteroffensive regarding LFTB has heated up, comments here on The Lunch Tray have also gotten more heated, regularly crossing that line between the passionate defense of ideas to ugly, ad hominem attacks against me and/or other commenters.  Nevertheless, despite the fact that I have every right to delete such comments, I’ve relaxed my standards and allowed a lot of them in.

But no longer.

The Lunch Tray is, in effect, my home, my own little corner of the Internet created from nothing, and in which I have invested almost two years of unpaid labor.  Its hallmark from the beginning has been that it is a safe and respectful place in which to air all sorts of views related to the “kids and food” issues I write about.  I intend to keep it so.

From here on out, I am tightening up my moderation policy.  Accordingly, here are some tips for those who wish to comment on the LFTB issue and actually see their comments appear:

1.  Before leaving a comment, please read the entire comment thread on the post.  If the sentiment you are expressing is virtually identical to that expressed by a previous commenter, especially if it’s no more than “beef is beef,” or urging me to look at the industry website, beefisbeef.com, I will not be inclined to post it.

2.  In case you don’t understand what I mean by a “civil tone,” it is exactly the tone I am employing right now in addressing you.  Polite, respectful — and in no way personal.

3.  Comments which mix valid points with ad hominem attacks or other nastiness will be lost to my trash folder, and that’s a shame, because I welcome any information which adds depth to this discussion. By way of example, if you’re knowledgable about chemistry and write a long, technical disquisition about the role of ammonia in beef processing — but then you feel the need to sign off by calling another commenter an obnoxious name — sadly, I will have to delete the entire comment.

4.  Unlike attacks on my readers, attacks on me personally might make it through if they raise even remotely valid concerns about my potential biases related to LFTB.  But attacks which are outside that narrow parameter will also be deleted.

But before moving on from that point, for the many inquiring minds who’ve written and speculated about me in recent days, here are some answers to your questions:

  • I have never hired professional models to pose as my kids, but they’ll be flattered to know you thought so.
  • Your interest in my sex life might just raise more questions about you than me.
  • Though I’ve probably written over a million words on TLT to date, I make no profit from blogging.  My expenses – the purchase of stock photos, giveaway items and the rest — vastly exceed the $100 I made from Google ads last year.
  • Sadly, I have no special red phone that connects me with my former Harvard Law School classmate, President Barack Obama.  If I did,  though, we might have an interesting conversation about labeling LFTB.
If you object to my “censorship” in accordance with the aforementioned guidelines, so be it.  There are many other forums out there in which you can express your views in any manner you wish.
- Bettina
[Ed Update:  To make sure everyone plays by these rules, I’ve set the blog to hold all comments until I can approve them, even if you are a trusted and longtime reader.  This means there will be longer delays before even unoffending comments are posted.  I’m sorry about that – maybe after a few days, we can go back to the old system where those with a good track record will see their comments appear automatically.]

 

 

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Dana Woldow April 3, 2012 at 11:05 am

Good for you for taking this completely reasonable position! This is your blog, created from your innumerable hours of unpaid labor, and there is no reason on earth why you should have to sit idly by and watch as trolls come out of the woodwork to destroy it. If people don’t like your policy, they are welcome to move along….Hooray for keeping TLT a safe space for civil discourse for the readers who have come to know and love it.

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Colette Sartor April 3, 2012 at 11:06 am

Excellent and extremely rules, Bettina. I applaud you and all your hard work.

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Barry April 3, 2012 at 11:10 am

Bettina,
Thank you for this post. In fact I was hoping for this for some time now. There are many other “public” sites that “allow” the posts as an expression of freedom. While I understand that this is your site, some of the comments have been out of line. In my opinion of course. I enjoy reading the articles as well as the comments and I will continue to add my own two cents as well.

Good Day~
Barry

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Bri April 3, 2012 at 11:11 am

Well done, Bettina.

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Truth Seeker April 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

Many things come to mind. You claim this to be a “personal blog” but you post it on the WORLD WIDE WEB for everyone to see, which no longer makes it a “personal blog”. As for personal attacks on you. I have brought up questions about your motive for doing a “personal blog”. I believe in freedom of expression but you should allow both sides instead of “censoring” only what you do not like. To have a complete arguement you need opposing sides, yet you want to limit what others say as it goes against what you are trying to say. Yes I believe you are making money from this site, why else would you have a advertising tab at the top. I understand you will probably delete this post. Feel free to send me an email or find me on facebook.

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LHonari April 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

Truth Seeker –

As the creator and moderator of this blog, Ms. Siegel is entitled to filter out comments and arguments that do not address the topic or promote dialogue. That is the beauty of our country – we are free to choose what we want to post on our OWN websites. It is called freedom, not censorship.

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Dina Rose April 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I think she has been clear that she is open to dissent. What she’s saying is keep the dialog polite.

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Truth Seeker – not that it’s the slightest bit your business, but lest anyone wonder if in fact I’m secretly making hordes of cash from this blog,the tab to which you refer is an OFFER to advertisers, one which has not yet been taken. Got it?

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Lenée April 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Please re-read what Bettina posted above. I believe it addresses each of your concerns.

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Amy H April 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm

So are you saying there is no such thing as a personal blog since blogs are posted on the internet? All blogs are public and no one who writes one has any rights to edit what appears there? I don’t really get your reasoning. Bettina clearly stated that this blog is personal (no quotes needed), and she has every right to moderate comments as she sees fit. The fact that she left yours in shows she is more open-minded than you assume.

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Mara April 3, 2012 at 11:15 am

Good for you! I’ve been really worried about how you are holding up under all this madness. You have been remarkable through all this and deserve respect from anyone who comes to comment on your blog. Don’t allow anyone to bully you on your own website!

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neona April 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

I just wanted to give you props for holding up under what sounds like a rough time for you. I also wanted to say “thank you” for being so passionate about this subject, and for sharing that passion with others. =)

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Charles Kuffner April 3, 2012 at 11:30 am

Well said. Thanks for all you do, Bettina.

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Korey April 3, 2012 at 11:39 am

Bettina, I started reading your blog long before the LFTB issue came up, and I can vouch that you have done everything you say you have. Lots of dissenting opinions on many different topics have been posted and appreciated here. I know my own thoughts and opinions have been challenged many times by reader comments, and I am grateful for the perspective check. For those of you who accuse Bettina of censorship, please remember that dissenting opinions are not the same as personal attacks. Personal attacks have no place in grown-up conversations and shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere. Thank you, Bettina, for standing up for civil discourse, and for making us all think a little harder about how we feed ourselves and our kids.

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Amateur Mommy April 3, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Amen to all you just said. People can disagree while maintaining a level of respect. If not, delete, delete, delete! Don’t trash the hard work and dignity of others.

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EdT. April 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Bettina,

You certainly have my support. I appreciate the effort you have put in to this blog, and the information you have shared with us.

Also, if you do manage to get a Red Phone installed, you might also want to bring up the whole S. Florida tomato thing. Nasty critters, those.

~EdT.

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Aviva Goldfarb April 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Bettina, I have always admired you but now my admiration has grown 100 fold. I’m sorry you’re being attacked but we will stand with you all the way on this quest for healthier food for kids.

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Traci Lewis April 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Good for you! I too have gotten into a few fights over the topic on my Facebook page. It was on a much smaller scale and cannot imagine what it has been like for you. Thank you for providing us parents who care about what goes into our kids bodies another place to get information. Your blog is awesome.

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Mindy April 3, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Good for you! Your website–you can tolerate on not tolerate whatever you want! Thanks for all you do–can’t be easy getting all this sudden publicity.

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Alissa April 3, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Good for you Bettina! Such a shame that trying to look out for children across the country has turned you into a target, but that is the great thing about having your own blog – this is one place you don’t have to allow attacks! Hopefully you have become desensitized enough over the last few weeks that you can just delete without getting upset about the bad energy coming your way. Thank you, for the millionth time, for all that you do to report and educate!

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KL April 3, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Good for you, Bettina–This is your place, and with the amount of work you put into it, it should be someplace you can enjoy. Good boundaries are always helpful.

It’s a shame people behave in such a way to make a post like this necessary. Thanks for taking steps to keep it respectable.

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FreeMarket April 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Thank you for all the work you have put into this and congratulations on all you have accomplished! You have reminded us that consumers still have a voice even when it seems that we do not. I have tremendous admiration of your ability to remain so civil in all of this. I’ll admit I haven’t been to the blog before the LFTB issue, but I look forward to continuing to read it long after this all dies down.

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Molly April 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Bettina, you ROCK!

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Mercy April 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Thank goodness you finally silenced those awful dissenters. It is so annoying when people think they can question smart experts. But no more. Peace!

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Michele Hays @QuipsTravails April 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Go, Bettina!

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Cynthia April 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I am a mother of four and I raise beef. The average beef herd in the US in 38 head. I have 25 pregnant cows, one bull and four yearling calves. The average beef producer could hardly be called Big Ag.
I have avoided your blog because when I saw your segment on Anderson I felt you were unwilling to listen to any opinion but your own. I had to access it through the internet because I don’t watch television.
I hold a degree in agriculture from the University of Nebraska. My father is retired USDA. I have raised cattle, hogs, chickens, horses, ducks, geese, cats and dogs.
I have a couple of questions. The photo used by media that is bright pink is not beef. It is mechanically seperated chicken. It is used in chicken nuggets and hot dogs. Do you also plan to launch a petition to ban mechanically seperated chicken?
Gelatin is made from collagen. Collagen is extracted by boiling the bones, hides and skin of pigs and cows. Do you also plan to launch a petition to ban gelatin?
When the beef is spun the fat is collected and made into tallow. Tallow is used in cosmetics, lotions, soaps, etc. Do you plan to follow up on the safety of chemical treatments the cosmetic industry uses to prevent the tallow from going rancid?
Frankly I am wondering where do you plan to go from here?

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Karen April 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Cynthia, how cool that you raise beef. I hope your herd continues to grow and be healthy!

I don’t think Bettina provides images to the media, so your question about the pink mechanically separated chicken picture is not really relevant. If you search this blog you will probably find a discussion or two about the health issues that come up when school districts serve chicken nuggets in their hot lunch programs. And aren’t foods with mechanically separated chicken labeled as such? That seems to resolve the issue.

The purpose of the original petition was to get the lean beef trimmings out of school lunch. That has nothing to do with gelatin or tallow, both of which are important ingredients in many industries. And it should be noted that no one calls them “beef.”

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kristi April 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I too am curious about this. I would like to know why some products are elevated for scrutiny and not others. I know school meals use jell-o, hot dogs, chicken nuggets and patties, and alot of the kids wear make-up. Why just ground beef petition?

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Cynthia: A few things. First, I accidentally attached the “pink goo” photo to my petition on the first day, learned of my error and immediately took it down. My best guess is that maybe 1-2000 people of the quarter million who signed saw that version of the petition. It was a stupid mistake and I apologized for it on the blog.

Second, you raise an interesting question about labeling and disclosure generally. None of the issues you raise above motivate me to take action but someone else out there might feel that there is insufficient information provided to consumers about them and might want to take action.

As for where I intend to go from here, my answer is this: my petition asked for one thing, which was to get LFTB out of ground beef destined for school food. Within 9 days USDA at least offered schools a choice, never before offered. In the days that followed, consumer outcry from media reports about LFTB led to demands for labeling, and now we have legislation pending in Congress that will provide just that. And, as of today, processors are already asking USDA for permission to label on a voluntary basis and USDA has agreed. Given that all this happened within less than four weeks of my petition’s launch (and no, my petition is not responsible for all of these developments, of course), I would say that consumers’ (and my) concerns have been met pretty well.

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Cynthia April 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

As I stated my dad is retired USDA. He has no problem with FTLB. My daughter has a degree in animal science and is currently working on her doctorate in veterinary medicine. She has personally toured multiple plants that make FTLB. She says it is fine. Using those educated, unbiased, first person accounts as my reference, I’m fine with the product as well.
Is the problem that the meat is mechanically seperated from the fat? Or that it is treated with ammonia?
Like I said, I raise cattle. A mile down the road is another woman who raises cattle. A couple of hills west is another woman who raises cattle. Women at home raising cattle and kids are the average US cattle rancher. Since the media ran with this the price of cattle has dropped.
So on average, (I’ve been raising cows for about 15 years) I can make $100 profit on each head I sell. So in a year I could make $2500. The price drop already has cost me $10 a head. Literally, we are mothers out here working hard in extreme heat and extreme cold. So make me understand, what about the product, specifically, do you object to?

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Tracy April 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Kudos to you, Bettina!

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Barbara M April 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Bettina, you have been amazing these last few weeks – civil, intelligent, fair and open. Those who can’t remain polite, should find themselves another blog.

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Nancy April 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I fully support you! I’ve been appalled at the hostile comments posted on your site by some pro-LFTB folks. Reasonable people can disagree and learn from each other. But not when personal attacks and harangues are part of the dialogue. Come to think of it, some of the unpleasant comments posted on your blog sound eerily similar to parts of the PR campaign being run by the beef industry — veiled threats, conspiracy theories, refusal to accept any responsibility, an air of arrogance that only industry knows what is best for the uninformed American public. Scary!

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Jon April 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I won’t mention names.

“relaxed my standards” = Believing something Oliver preaches

“tightening up my moderation” = deleting anything that proves him wrong.

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Jon, your comment betrays a troubling lack of knowledge of my views. If you’d taken any time to peruse this site you would know that in fact I publicly criticized Jamie Oliver the very day after his household ammonia demonstration in the summer of 2011, and similarly demanded and obtained an on-air correction from NPR when it recently implied that I associated on this blog ammonium hydroxide with household “cleaning agents.” My views are entirely independent of Mr. Oliver’s. Hope that clears up any confusion for you, Jon.

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Jon April 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I just happened to notice the “ad” on the side of this page concerning his blog. I guess I personally wouldn’t advertise him. That’s where my confusion lies.

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Bettina Elias Siegel April 3, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Oh, I’m glad you explained the source of confusion. In November of 2010, The Lunch Tray was chosen as a Jamie Oliver Food Revolution “blog of the month,” an honor for which I was grateful since the blog was then so new. (They give you that “badge” to put on the site if you like — it’s not an ad at all.) Given the support I received from Jamie’s organization, it was that much harder for me to criticize his ammonia demonstration, but I did so anyway. Hope this clears up the issue for you.

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Jon April 4, 2012 at 10:54 am

Thank you.

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Truth Seeker April 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

You are correct, Sir.

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Lenée April 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Bettina. I can only second the compliments stated on this thread.

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SuperMom101 April 3, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Dear Bettina,

Thank you, thank you, thank you from here as well! Hopefully the kudos and accolades are accepted as a small token of our appreciation and gratitude for your hard work and dedication.

Best health always to you and your family….

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cindy April 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer I have become quite attentive to all possible food related carcinogens. I just happened to stumble upon your tweets and blog. thank-you for being a food safety advocate your work has not gone unnoticed

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Justin Gagnon April 3, 2012 at 10:00 pm

It’s a shame that a forum that, to date, has tackled SO MANY difficult topics from a perspective of well-reasoned objectivity has been rail-roaded by singularly focused newcomers that have no context of the great work that has been done here. For said newcomers to question your motives in hosting this platform simply proves that they have no understanding of the complete body of work that is The Lunch Tray.

As much as I believe that true change in our food system can only happen when the dialogue reaches the mainstream, the LFTB discussion has shown that any discussion that engages such breadth of readership can quickly disintegrate into personal attacks and character assassination. This is exactly the kind of polarization that plagues us in Washington, and greatly endangers the long-term viability of this democracy. Until we can discuss and debate civilly, as the readership of The Lunch Tray has done for so long, we will remain in a political and cultural stalemate.

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kristi April 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Wouldn’t it have great for discourse if the petiton had been accurate in referring to the product by it’s true name and not the derogatory term? Hmmm, wonder if so many would have signed if it had been Lean, Finely Textured Beef to be done away with instead of the inflamatory connotation? Fair? No. The “we travel the high road here” aura now found here is in direct opposition to how the whole issue came to be so huge. To resort to basically name-calling to oppose something is definately not the high road to me. I would have absolutely no problem with someone arguing that they didn’t like the product being in the school lunch program if there had been a fair debate on the facts. Instead, we got hysteria caused by senationalism.

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Justin Gagnon April 4, 2012 at 9:50 pm

This is a fair point. But is “Lean, Finely Textured Beef” not also a term coined to portray the product in an innocuous, if not positive, light? Such is the difficulty with any debate that occurs in the media and public perception.

Very fair point though, Kristi, and well taken. Regardless of the term, I would still want the product labeled and prefer that it not be used in school lunches. But you have a point as to whether the movement would have caught this head of steam without a “headline”.

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Sandy April 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Although I have read your blog for a long time, this is only the second time I’ve felt a need to post.

Kudos for standing firm in your beliefs, for encouraging civil discourse, and for all you have done in the best interests of our (collective) children.

Please know there are many that respect and admire you…and are following in your footsteps.

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Mary April 4, 2012 at 8:21 am

Bettina! Thank you. I have grown very weary of posting anything since I knew someone would come along with insults, name calling etc…, no matter what was posted. I am a new comer to your site and after seeing all of the attacks and what not from the current issue I went back and read several of your other articles and posts from commenter’s and was relieved to see that nasty personal attacks are not the norm. I look forward to reading new posts in the future.

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Holiday April 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Glad to see you’re protecting yourself, Bettina. You’re a wonderful, brave person and you don’t deserve abuse for standing up for what you believe in.

I’ve mostly been a silent observer since this “pink slime”/LFTB issue became so viral. I’ve read through lots of posts and comments and had lots of thoughts and reactions, but I haven’t joined any discussions up to now because I tend to feel it’s not worth saying anything once the attacking/abuse starts.

I have to point out – on both this blog and several other sites, I have noticed that the majority of the mean-spirited, abusive, attacking comments are coming from supporters of unlabeled LFTB, or those who want to keep the status quo. I have rarely seen any “nasty” comments from folks who say they want LFTB out of school lunch, or products containing this product labeled clearly as such. Obviously I’m not saying ALL the attackers are LFTB supporters and ALL the LFTB opposers are sweet and wonderful :)

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Anna April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

I would feel sympathy for your position IF you hadn’t used this “personal blog” as a launching pad for a petition drive that may put hundreds of people out of work in our area. Again…directly because of your actions…the people in my tri-state area (who are still recovering from a massive flood and the pull out of Gateway headquarters) now have to deal (again) with being unemployed and having another huge hit to the local economy.

And I don’t buy the argument that this is the same as doing away with cigarette companies and the like. There is not one (in all my research) known case of someone becoming seriously ill or dying from the consumption of LTFB. It is a legal process that does no harm. You may not like “pink slime”, but do you think the padimonium your petition drive caused was worth the livlihood and well-being of my whole region?

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Cynthia April 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I have to wonder. Have you asked your self, ‘what if I was wrong?’ Doesn’t that possibility weigh on your concience? What if in fact, you have bore false witness? What if FTLB is exactly what the proponents say it is, a low fat, nutritious protein source? What if over one thousand families have lost their source of income needlessly? What will you do when you are proven wrong?

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Tom December 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Hopefully she will pay out a lot of money to the people that she hurt. Her information was wrong.
In my town the weather man is the only person that can give out wrong information daily and get by with it.

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Judy Thomas April 12, 2012 at 5:04 am

Thank you for your work-keep it up!

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Leela April 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Have just discovered your site and blog just now, and loving what seeing. I haven’t read all of this post, but got the gist in the first few lines. I run facebook pages and groups soley for the purpose of putting out positive Vibes, and learned really quickly that to keep the essence and purpose of the page or group, unfortunately have to delete posts, and people if necessary, who do not ‘get’ it. These type of people can very quickly hijack the intention of pages and destroy all the inspiration and effort and time that’s been dedicated to helping others. A social networking trainer posted “Facebook pages are not a democracy!” and i have really taken it to heart and very quickly got over any innertia about deleting inappropriate comments or negative people. So keep up the excellent contribution you are making – i look forward to being a regular visitor. Namaste <3
https://www.facebook.com/aStarIsShining

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