Vilsack, Branstad have a beef with 'pink slime'

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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.

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Bob K.    
Nebraska  |  March, 29, 2012 at 06:08 AM

Who in the h_ _ _ named it " pink slime"?? It seems to me the media starts these kind of things to raise controversy. Do they realize the harm things like this creates. I bet a lot of the parents dont worry about a lot of things their kids eat or drink that are a lot more harmful. B.K.

March, 30, 2012 at 01:38 PM

It was an FDA inspector - how's that for ya. Oh, btw - it wouldn't put anyone out of a job - they can use the plant for making dog food.

Minnesota  |  March, 29, 2012 at 09:21 AM

Consumers have a right to know exactly what is in the food they eat. Consumers also have the right to choose, which is exactly what they have been doing in the supermarket after they learned what is going into ground beef. This is no different than BsT in milk, and look how that turned out. Does the beef industry really want supermarkets to label ground beef as "No LFTB"? I don't think so.

Choose, and then whine    
Nebraska  |  March, 29, 2012 at 09:29 AM

Ah, yes, the consumers' right to choose - who could be against that? Of course the consumers have apparently just voted themselves $4.50 per pound ground beef, so I can't wait for all the whining to begin when the price increase comes. I really don't understand how U.S. consumers can be so obsessed with keeping food prices dirt cheap, then resent the companies who produce it. They'll pay $6 for a latte and $1.59 for a 20 oz. bottle of tap water, but have a heart attack when the price of milk goes up by a nickel.

TX  |  March, 29, 2012 at 09:29 AM

From what I have read "pink slime" came from the email exchange between two scientists working on the project and one eventually became a whistleblower. Maybe now American cattle breeds that produce lean beef cuts will actually not be penalized and will be utilized instead of foreign lean meat "pink slime" that can be bought on the cheap. How much of that "pink slime" came from foreign countries to be mixed in with the hamburger meat? That's a real nourishing thought.

Kansas  |  March, 29, 2012 at 09:37 AM

IF LFTB goes off the market, the U.S. will import more grinding beef, not less. The U.S. doesn't have the cattle supply to meet the demand for inexpensive ground beef, which isn't going to go away just because someone does away with LFTB. Think the Dollar Menu is magically going to become the Two Dollar Menu and everyone will be happy? Guess again.

ks  |  March, 29, 2012 at 10:03 AM

“Consumers just don’t know . . . .” technically that is correct and that is the whole point of this debacle. They don’t know because they were never properly informed. Without full disclosure the consumer has to rely on what they perceive to be the truth. Ground beef to the consumer was (is) what your grandmother or the local meat locker made from the butcher scraps, that is until “pink slime” emerged. The process to make LFTB is foreign and unknown to the consumer. Centrifuge? A puff of ammonium chloride? Sorry, never seen either of those in g-maws kitchen. Is it still “100% pure beef” to the consumer ? By technical industry and government standards perhaps yes. To the consumer; I doubt it. To the uninformed perception is reality. By not acknowledging the consumers perspective and perception 30 years ago when LFTB was introduced, the meat industry and government has (intentionally? or unintentionally?) deceived the consumer (again from the perspective of the consumer). The proponents of LFTB confirm the deceit by verifying its use for 30 years and hiding behind a technical standard and calling it 100% pure beef. Maybe technically correct but again not what the consumer would call 100% pure beef. So much of what is going wrong in the beef and meat industry today is a result of the industry’s and government’s complicity in the industry perspective and lack of appreciation of the consumer’s perspective and taking steps to inform and educate the consumer.

Missouri  |  March, 29, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Complicity? Really? How much do we know about what really goes on in the production of the batteries for your iPhone? Your dietary supplements? The ground beef at the supermarket is labeled as 100% ground beef, correct? LFTB is ground beef, correct? Not plant, pork or chicken, correct? Does not sound like a cabal to deceive the consumer to me. Throwing a whole poultry carcass into a food processor with liquid ammonia, however, does sound like deception. Additionally, if you have a problem with ammonium hydroxide (NOT chloride, as Jamie Oliver would have it) then you should probably not purchase plant products at large chain grocers as it is used fairly extensively as an anti-pathogen agent. The problem is actually trusting a media that is more inclined to get ratings via emotionally charged and heavily canted (if not flat false) stories. The portayal of the product was such that most people would by nature recoil. A whole chicken (bones and cartilage) tossed into a food processor ensured that response. Mr. Oliver should offer an apology.

Washington  |  March, 29, 2012 at 01:25 PM

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. And, information runs through like a wild fire no matter if it is based in fact or fiction. As an industry, we need to look at the trends, and be determined to be in front of them. What are the trends? Consumers are demanding to know what is in their food. This goes from GMO foods, to foods containing MSG, BPA in their foods, "USDA Organic" vs "All Natural".... 100% ground beef vs ground beef product.... people are tired of being lied to and mis-led. How does this affect the beef industry? Well, immediately, because of the pink-slime issue, this can put a dent in it. In the long run, if we look ahead, this can be an opportunity to give the consumers what they want: a product that is actually labelled correctly, so consumers can once again have confidence that what they are eating is not harming their families. This is the first generation of children not expected to out live their parents. Why? Does it have to do with the foods we have been eating for the past 30 years being processed, radiated, modified and mis-labeled? You do some research and then decide. What if we quit acting as if we got our hand caught in the cookie jar, and actually were looking down the road at our future as an industry? Pink slime or not, consumers are demanding the right to make an informed decision on what to feed their family. That isn't going away. All the bs in the world to advocate the safety of LFTB isn't going to change it.

March, 30, 2012 at 01:50 PM

It's not as nutritious: "Carl Custer, also a retired microbiologist, said the claim that "pink slime" is as nutritious as ground beef is wrong. "Microbiologically safe and nutritionally complete are two different issues," Custer said. "It may be pink [but], nutritionally, it is not equivalent to whole-muscle tissue." Custer said the ammonia gas does kill E. coli and salmonella if done properly, but much of the protein in lean finely textured beef is different than protein in pure ground beef. "It would be sort of the equivalent to something like Jell-O or gelatin" said Custer. "Gelatin is connective tissue. It's been boiled down, but it is a protein. It's just not a complete protein. Add sugar to it and other things and it's delicious. And you do get some nutritional value. It's not as nutritional as whole muscle meat." "Pink slime" does provide nutrition, but not as much as ground beef, according to Richard Ludescher, a nutritionist at Rutgers University in New Jersey who, at the request of ABC News, reviewed data from a study on lean finely textured beef from Iowa State University. Ludescher said that because lean finely textured beef has five times the collagen level as standard ground beef it "will have a lower nutritional value than beef muscle." Collagen is a protein, he said, that is higher in non-essential amino acids and lower in essential amino acids than meat from an animal's muscle. "Addition of LFTB would thus lower the nutritional quality of ground beef," Ludescher said.""

SD  |  April, 01, 2012 at 08:55 PM

It seems harmful to both consumers and the beef industry, from farmer to retailer, to allow rumor, conjecture, and outright lies (candy coated as 'mis-information' all too often!) to prevail in this case, as we have in so many attacks on raising meat for food. From the activist "FDA inspector" quoted as hanging the epithet "pink slime" on a fine pure beef product,protected from bacteria by a gas commonly used in higher concentrations in so many other food products, to the 'professors' who make statements, with no peer review regarding the nutrition content of this beef product, WHY are we accepting their word with no challenge of their methodology or agenda driven comments?

Tx  |  April, 02, 2012 at 08:45 AM

Cattle prices dropped last week after this story started finally getting press after it had been out there for almost a year according to some articles. McDonald's had already stopped buying "pink slime" burgers last summer. Interestingly, it was reported that hamburger meat prices also went up last week in stores. It has been reported for weeks that the packers were losing money with the price of cattle being high and that they would be considering shutting down some plants. Was this story leaked and pushed within the beef industry or trading markets in order to correct the market???? Seems like awful convenient timing.????

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