The Other Side of LFTB Issue Starts to Speak Up and Ask Questions

March 28, 2012 11:16 AM

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

Lawmakers send letter to Vilsack | Governors to tour a BPI beef plant in South Sioux City, Neb.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

The media-hyped assault on a product formally called lean finely textured beef (LFTB), and derisively labeled "pink slime" by the urban and television and cable media, is now getting information from the other side of the matter who are trying to put facts out – rather than just perception.

Letter to Vilsack. Three House members today (March 28, 2012) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that notes that given the "tremendous amount of misinformation" released to the public about LFTB, "it is no surprise that many consumers have begun to question the quality of this product.

Impacts being felt... jobs. Beef Products Inc. (BPI) of Dakota Dunes, S.D., said this week that it is closing three of its four plants. Some governors on Thursday (March 29) will tour a BPI beef plant in South Sioux City, Neb.

"Ultimately, it will be the consumer who pays for taking this safe product out of the market," a group of governors said in a joint statement. "The price of ground beef will rise as ranchers work to raise as many as 1.5 million more head of cattle to replace safe beef no longer consumed because of the baseless media scare."

The group visiting the BPI beef plant includes Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback; South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels; Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman; and Texas Gov. Rick Perry – all states in which BPI has facilities. Branstad told the Sioux City Journal that by touring the facilities, the state officials are showing they have every confidence in the quality of the beef. "They're been a victim of a smear campaign, and I think we need to do all we can to try to counter this," he said.

Branstad said Iowa can not afford to lose those jobs, especially given how important the agricultural industry is to the state's wider economy. "We don't want people to quit eating beef," he said. "It's too important for our economy."

"Lean, finely textured beef is a safe, nutritious product that is backed by sound science. It is unfortunate when inaccurate information causes an unnecessary panic among consumers," the group said today in a statement.

Background. The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated and spun to remove most of the fat before compressed into blocks and used as filler in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella and advocates note it is generally around 95 percent fat free.

Branstad held a press conference Wednesday with Vilsack in Des Moines, Iowa. Both of the officials expressed confidence in Beef Products Inc. and its lean, finely-textured beef. Vilsack urged consumers, retail grocery stores and school districts to form decisions on the ground beef additive based on facts. They both said the additive was healthy, safe and historically less expensive than other ground beef products.

Vilsack said the additive has been a staple in the school lunch program. "The youngsters are getting a product that is lean and, historically, less expensive." But earlier this month, USDA decided to give school districts the option of using ground beef with, or without, the additive. "We're not in the business of mandates," Vilsack said. "We're in the business of responding to concerns of our customers, in this case, the school districts."

Several grocery chains and fast food restaurants have said they would stop stocking the product.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers' letter to Vilsack noted that USDA plays "a unique role in ensuring the safety of our nation's food supply. As such, it must be the arbiter for facts and science in cases such as this. However, we are concerned that the USDA has not done enough to educate the public about lean finely textured beef and promote its use as a safe and healthy food choice."

The letter details a 2008 Washington Post article, "Engineering a Safer Burger," called BPI, the nation's largest supplier of LFTB, "a fortress against potentially lethal bacteria." The letter added that BPI "makes lean, high quality 100% beef that meets the highest levels of safety. "It is for this very reason that the USDA has included lean finely textured beef in the National School Lunch Program," the letter added.

The lawmakers told Vilsack they are writing him "to ask that the USDA take steps to educate the public about the safety and benefits of lean finely textured beef and to encourage schools to make their food choices based on nutrition and food safety, not public perception. American consumers deserve sound science and access to the facts when deciding how to budget their grocery list, particularly when costs to family budgets remain unwavering. We ask that you engage the full force of the USDA to ensure that consumer choice is driven by facts, and not misinformation in public media."

The letter was signed by Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa), Tom Latham (R-Iowa), and Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa).

Comments: This issue again shows that facts can't, at least initially, stand in the way of 24/7 "news" that hypes everything to garner attention. In an administration that keeps wanting to promote more jobs, a Cabinet agency, in this case USDA, tried to threat a needle on this issue but in doing say gave the perception that something was wrong with the product. Now Vilsack will likely have to do damage control on another issue.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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