Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack joined Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to go to bat for the beef industry March 28, voicing their support for lean finely textured beef in an attempt to correct what they described as erroneous media reports on "pink slime."
Branstad and Vilsack (who served as governor of Iowa before being called to Washington, D.C., to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture) took issue with criticism of LFTB during a news conference, praising it as a safe, low-cost and low-fat beef product.
"For 30 years, people like me have been eating this," Branstad said of LFTB.
The uproar over "pink slime" heated up recently when the federal school lunch program was urged to stop using LFTB.
Vilsack said the department had received hundreds of statements of concern from school lunch program participants but said USDA was giving them the choice whether or not to include it in school nutrition programs.
He said program participants need to make their decisions based on facts and not sometimes erroneous media reports.
Branstad praised West Des Moines, Iowa-based grocery chain Hy-Vee for reconsidering its decision to drop beef products containing LFTB and appealed to other retailers to do the same.
He planned to tour a production plant March 29 to show how the product is made and that it is safe, pledging to eat some of the product during the tour, which will include USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen.
In an effort to illustrate the personal toll the controversy over "pink slime" has caused, Branstad said he had received a letter from an employee at Beef Products Inc.'s Waterloo, Iowa, plant. BPI announced March 27 it was suspending operations at three of four plants where they manufacture LFTB, planning to continue at its South Sioux City, Iowa, plant, but shutting down operations in Waterloo as well as Amarillo, Texas, and Garden City, Kan.
Addressing the bigger picture, Vilsack and Branstad said the hit taken by beef producers from shutting down LFTB production will ripple onto corn and soybean producers and elsewhere in the ag economy.
Both men said the incident illustrated the crucial need to respond quickly to set the record straight when ag products and agriculture are under attack based on false or misleading information, particularly considering how rapidly information can spread via social media.
Vilsack said the public needs to be educated about modern agriculture.
"People just don't know," he said.