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Beef safety expert says ABC got it wrong, wrong and wrong

Texas Tech researcher testifies on behalf of BPI; says LFTB is beef not 'pink slime' and is safe

mindybrashears_406x250ELK POINT, SD – Mindy Brashears from Texas Tech University took the witness stand in the BPI v. ABC jury trial Wednesday. Under direct testimony, she was giving BPI a lot of traction, but that could change this morning when ABC’s attorneys get to continue their cross-examination.

Professor Brashears is director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence at Texas Tech University. She told the jury that BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is meat, is beef, is nutritious and is entirely safe to eat.

Her testimony on behalf of BPI was designed to prove that almost everything ABC News reported from March 7 to April 3 in 2012 about the beef product — which the network referred to as “pink slime” more than 350 times — was totally false.

In the past four years, Brashears said, she not only examined everything she could find about BPI, but also conducted her own studies. Her time on the project totaled 1,250 hours and BPI paid her a private consulting rate of $250 an hour for a total of about $335,000.

In addition, she used textbook definitions to show that LFTB is not a filler, not a gelatin and not a “pink slime.” Further, she said, she conducted her own research to show trimmings used in production of BPI’s product are not more dangerous than those used by other beef processors.

ABC News screen shot with burgerBefore Brashears knocked down an alleged falsehood, BPI attorneys each time would play another of the ABC newscasts to show how their clients were victims of “food disparagement.”

Brashears also testified about BPI’s overall food safety record. She visited its facilities “18 to 20 times” during the past four years. She did numerous studies of her own because she said she wanted her own set of facts.

BPI’s lean finely textured beef is just that, she testified, lean beef that is entirely suitable for use in ground beef. As for BPI’s food safety programs and practices, Brashears had nothing but praise.

She said the company not only holds individual lots of meat until tests show they are clear for E. coli O157:H7 and the six other Shiga toxin producing strains, but also for Salmonella. The E. coli strains are banned from beef by federal law because they are defined as adulterants.  Salmonella, however, under federal law, is not considered an adulterant in meat.

Brasiers said she knows of no beef processing company — except for BPI — that diverts lots that test positive for Salmonella to a cooked product, which kills the bacteria.

She also said that a 2009 New York Times report about BPI lean finely textured beef that tested positive for E. coli being used for the National School Lunch Program was not correct. The product went to the NSLP’s lab, the consultant said, and never reached a school lunchroom.

Dane Butswinkas

Dane Butswinkas

Only 10 minutes of court time remained Wednesday when ABC’s attorneys finally began their cross examination. Attorney Dane Butswinkas went back to his “hamburger hierarchy,” asking Brashears questions about how LFTB was approved by USDA prior to 1993 when agency scientists opposed.

Butswinkas pointedly asked Brashears if LFTB was not the same product BPI sold prior to 1993 that was not permitted in ground beef. The TTU professor said she did not look at products that existed prior to the 1993 adoption of LFTB by USDA. She also told Butswinkas she did not find much significance to there being opposition by some USDA scientists because there is always opposition in such situations.

Brashears research focuses on interventions in pre-and post-harvest environments and on the emergence of antimicrobial drug resistance. She’s worked with the beef industry in more 30 states.

Her interests have primarily been in meat and poultry products, with some work on spinach as well. Her work has resulted in the commercialization of pre-harvest feed additives that reduce E. coli and Salmonella in cattle.

The professor is currently working with the government and beef industry in Honduras to rebuild that nation’s herd. She’s also led international research teams to Mexico, Belize and Argentina to improve food safety and security in those sectors and to set up sustainable agriculture systems in impoverished areas.

She teaches courses in food microbiology and food safety and offers industry training in food sanitation, recalls and food security. She holds a bachelor’s degree in food technology from Texas Tech and master’s and doctoral degrees in food science from Oklahoma State University.

Editors Note: Attorney Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, represented retired USDA scientists Gerald Zirnstein and Carl Custer until they were dismissed as defendants in this case. Writer/editor Dan Flynn was served with  a subpoena from the plaintiffs during early stages of this litigation but was not required to provide any information or to testify. That subpoena is now thought to be inactive.

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