Congressman Steve King (R-IA) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad are pushing for a congressional probe into what many in the meat industry are calling a “smear campaign” against Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), a formerly obscure component commonly used in ground beef now known to the public as “pink slime.”

King has asked Frank Lucas (R-OK), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee to host a hearing that would bring in witnesses to testify on the media firestorm and consumer backlash over the product, which has led to three plant suspensions and sidelined 650 workers in Texas, Kansas, and Iowa — including some 200 workers in King’s district.

“Witnesses would be under oath and they’re of course obligated by law to tell the truth, those who have been the ones who have perpetrated this smear campaign against one of the stellar companies in the country,” King recently told an Iowa radio station. “I think they’ll have an obligation then to explain themselves why they could not base their allegations on facts and what they’ve done to damage an industry.”

The congressman said he believes the campaign is also an “assault” on meat. “I’d like to look at that further,” he said. “Right now, I’m focused on helping BPI get their brand back and their market share back.”

Tamara Hinton, communications director for the ag committee, told Food Safety News that, though they are monitoring the issue “closely,” a hearing has not been scheduled.

King said he was not considering legislation or any type of “punishment” to address the issue, but is focused on getting the truth out. “Once we get the truth out, then we might look at what we might provide for solutions.”

Branstad.beef_-252x300.jpgBeef Products Inc., the nation’s largest producer of LFTB, recently suspended operations at its plant in Waterloo, IA and the news immediately put Iowa politicians, on both sides of the aisle, into damage control mode.

Last week, Gov.Terry Branstad pulled together a high-profile media event on short notice featuring governors Rick Perry of Texas and Sam Brownback of Kansas, as well as lieutenant governors from Nebraska and South Dakota and the Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen.

Branstad has also written to all governors and lieutenant governors asking for support and on several occasions called for a congressional investigation into the “slurs” and “lies” coming from LFTB critics.  

Even amid a heated campaign between candidate Christie Vilsack (the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack) and King, the two participated in a joint event last week to show their support for BPI.

According to state campaign finance filings, BPI president and CEO Eldon Roth contributed $152,000 to Gov. Brandstad’s 2010 reelection campaign and according to the Des Moines Register the company is tied to more than half a million in donations to Iowa Republicans over the last decade.

The story has been updated with campaign finance data.