In response to the dramatic public reaction to recent media stories on Beef Products Inc.’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) — the ground beef supplement often referred to as “pink slime” — leaders in government are coming to the defense of the product this week, calling it safe and nutritious and criticizing what they call sensationalist reporting.

On Wednesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad held a press conference at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines in an effort to dispel LFTB’s negative image. Vilsack defended the inclusion of LFTB in the school lunch program, while Branstad focused on the hit the economy would take from BPI suspending operations at three of its four facilities.

On Thursday, the two officials will join a number of other government leaders on a tour of the remaining operational Beef Products Inc. (BPI) facility in Sioux City, South Dakota in a show of support to the company. The sudden loss of business caused BPI to suspend all operations at plants in Garden City, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; and Waterloo, Iowa.

The group touring the South Dakota plant will include U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Undersecretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen and governors Sam Brownback of Kansas, Dave Heineman of Nebraska and Rick Perry of Texas. 

The suspension at the Waterloo plant alone has jeopardized 200 jobs, Gov. Branstad said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“During a time when we’re all working hard as a nation to create new jobs, watching these facilities shut down is even harder to take since we know [the reports are] simply unfounded,” he added.

The USDA received hundreds of requests to completely discontinue its use of LFTB in the school lunch program, Vilsack said. He added that because the product is safe, contains less fat than other beef and is historically inexpensive, the USDA had no plans to remove LFTB from the lunch program.

With that said, schools now have the choice to remove LFTB from their lunchrooms.

“Our customers wanted a choice and I don’t think we’re in the business of mandating that they not have the choice they’re requesting,” Vilsack said. “We’re going to make sure they have a choice, but our goal is that they make that choice based on facts.”

Following significant public appeals in recent weeks, grocery chains such as Safeway, Supervalu and Kroger have said they will stop buying LFTB. In late January, McDonald’s announced that it would stop adding the product to its ground beef.

One grocery chain, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, has already reversed its decision to discontinue selling LFTB-supplemented meat at its 233 locations, saying it will instead label its ground beef containing LFTB to allow customers a choice. Walmart, the largest grocery chain in the U.S., has already announced it would adopt a similar policy.

Vilsack and Branstad said they hoped government and scientific authorities could appeal to other grocery chains and have them reconsider selling LFTB ground beef.

The group of officials touring the BPI plant on Thursday will address the media afterward.

“By taking this safe product out of the market, grocery retailers and consumers are allowing media sensationalism to trump sound science,” they said in a written statement. “This is a disservice to the beef industry, hundreds of workers who make their livings producing this safe product, and consumers as a whole.”

  • pawpaw

    When govt and industry reps seek to restore confidence in a food and demonstrate their own, there are times they partake, on camera. If these press conferences have Q&A sessions, “May we see you eat it?” could come up. Likely will come up in the broader response to these confidence building measures. “Do you feed it to your children or grandchildren?” and “How often?” could also be asked.
    May not need to consume pure LFTB for that’s not it’s intended use. But, to demonstrate that it’s merely beef, safe and nutritious, pictures of eating beef with LFTB (or lack thereof) could be worth thousands of words in the ongoing “effort to dispel LFTB’s negative image”.

  • Gabrielle Meunier

    We need some e-coli foorborne illness victims of groundbeef speaking out to the media on this. Both sides of the issue need to be represented and the safety side has not been represented at all . . .

  • jc

    Gabrielle, that is because this issue is not about food safety. It is about consumer perception.

  • Pawpaw,
    Thanks for touching on that. I forgot to mention in the article that during the press conference, Gov. Branstad said the officials on the tour would be eating ground beef that contained LFTB. Also, in an interview with Food Safety News last week, Dr. Hagen at the USDA mentioned that she and her children eat ground beef — there’s a good statistical chance that some of that ground beef has included LFTB in the past.

  • Carl Custer

    Hopefully someone will inform Vilsack that (1) LFTB has been found to have Salmonella and STEC O157:H7 (2) USDA FSIS’ mission statement is: “The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is the public health agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for ensuring that the nation’s commercial supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.” Note #2 is about misbranding, not making their customer’s happy. Geebus, someone give him a copy of the Act U.S.C 21 601 & 602.

  • Of course we’re going to be interested in what the governor who signed the nation’s first Ag-Gag law thinks. What part of “what do you have to hide, Iowa” doesn’t he understand?
    And evidently, to the Republicans, “market driven” seems to mean let the market decided…except when it decides counter to corporate interests. Then have a hissy and roll out the PR machine. And pressure a chain like Hy-Vee to change its mind.
    At least Hy-Vee will actually label the adulterated beef (and yes, that is a correct and factual use of the word, and the one I plan on using for this type of beef from now on).

  • pat simon

    While I have sympathy for those whose jobs are affected, I am appalled that they’re already trying to rehabilitate this stuff. If it has less nutritional value, as it appears it does, and must be disinfected before it can be sold, as it appears it does, it is something I don’t want to eat. Labeling is one good step, but isn’t it about time that the big (and little if they do this) food producers stopped spending so much energy devising ways to feed us garbage? It’s like the chickens that were (are?) fed their own litter. Reduces waste for the big food producers and ultimately is feeding us chicken litter and feces along with the birds who’ve consumed it. UGH!!!

  • Pawpaw,
    Thanks for touching on that. I forgot to mention in the article that during the press conference, Gov. Branstad said the officials on the tour would be eating ground beef that contained LFTB. Also, in an interview with Food Safety News last week, Dr. Hagen at the USDA mentioned that she and her children eat ground beef — there’s a good statistical chance that some of that ground beef has included LFTB in the past.

  • James

    Talk about built in conflict of interest!
    On the one hand, our US Dept of Agriculture agency is charged with food system regulation and overseeing the safety of our meat supply.
    And on the other hand — here’s Sec Vilsack wearing the ole’ USDA Agribusiness Booster hat — once again assuring consumers that all is well with our food…

  • ecofoodologist

    James has hit the point we should deal with first. “Why are animal product marketers regulating,” and “Is marketing an appropriate role for USDA?” If politics and the purchase of “science” are left from the conversation, the answers are simple.
    More long term, we will do well to consider what we Americans demand from agriculture. If food safety comes to mean sterilization, rather than production of/from healthy animals, the people who demand low prices that Walmart and Hy-Vee deliver have no right to complain about being fed sterilized waste product. The problem deepens because discount retailers are absolved of consequence for demanding wholesale food at the lowest possible price per volume, requiring caloric fillers like LFTB. Did everyone follow that. Demand for cheap food is the problem.
    Still looking deeper, we can recognize that the economy of scale for LFTB will grow without Americans because there is a world of people starving for the American dream of cheap everything. This “cheap food paradigm” is only a small part of accepting arguments that jobs are threatened by dropping LFBT from animal products. If you accept that argument think of the waste management jobs we could create by just throwing these ammonia cleansed animal products in landfills instead of feeding them to neighbors.
    It is a travesty that many Americans demand the lowest price for everything from shadowy ag producers, and decry things like LFBT, a product of the collective demand for low prices.
    A better rule of thumb is to know your farmer and never apologize for asking how food is produced. Good farmers don’t mind telling you. ef

  • J. Brewster

    Now, that’s getting right to the heart of the argument, “ef” — it’s “cheap food” that will be our certain undoing!! We all know that abundant, safe affordable food flies in the face of everything affluent holier-than-thou orthorexics hold dear. So long as us common people have an assortment of affordable foods we will never make the choices autocratic food snobs think we should. And that is the real problem here, if you consider that a problem.

  • ecofoodologist

    OK JB, you are making hyperbole of my argument and you may succeed as did the media with the phrase “pink slime.”
    Don’t confuse the phrase “cheap food” with good food at a lower price, which I advocate. The problem is that food prices are demand controlled. We live in a glut of caloric opportunities. If our farmer can’t grow beef and sell it to us at 99 cents per pound, most people just go to Walmart and don’t ask any questions about why the price is lower.
    If most people followed a pound of beef they ate recently, they would have moral objections to some part of the production of that beef. At a minimum, nearly all would do anything to prevent their children from working in a confined animal facility.
    But for full disclosure, one of my ideals may actually seem elitist. I don’t accept that we should build a food system to service 9B people… ever!
    So to keep prices down for a retail market that can find cheap calories anywhere, corners are cut. LFTB is just the recent case where offended eaters won the day.
    Could you agree that any chemical added for consumption, that would be toxic at some level, should be described in retail labeling? Then people could make informed choices and not feel deceived, then eventually frustrated enough retaliate by joining the “pink slime” melee. Peace, ef

  • Chaz

    I don’t get it. All this fuss and outrage, it can’t be for real. I’ve eaten my share of fast food burgers, no doubt containing plenty of LFTbeef. I don’t feel deceived, I don’t feel grossed-out, I don’t feel outraged. Actually, thinking about it makes me hungry for a nice MickeyD’s or BurgerKing cheeseburger. Now, if removing the LFTbeef reduces the flavor and/or jacks the price of a burger, well, then I’m going to be torqued-off.