The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Vilsack, Branstad defend ‘lean finely textured beef’


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad
held a joint press conference today to clarify facts surrounding Beef Products Inc.’
lean finely textured beef. (USDA/Darin Leach)

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad held a press conference in Des Moines today to defend the “lean, finely textured beef product,” a hamburger additive composed of leftover bits of meat that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks because it is treated with ammonia gas to kill harmful bacteria including e Coli and salmonella.

In a sign of the strength of USDA’s support, Vilsack also said that Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen would join Branstad and other governors on a tour of a Beef Products Inc. plant in South Sioux City, Neb., that makes the product.

Branstad, a Republican, and Vilsack, a former Democratic Iowa governor, held the news conference after Beef Products, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., reported that demand for the product is down so much that it was closing three plants, including one in Waterloo, Iowa, that has employed 200 people.

Both said meat buyers should make their decisions based on science, saying the product is safe, low in fat and a cheaper ingredient.

Branstad said he has eaten the product for more than 30 years and that it is “100 percent beef.” Branstad blamed a “poisonous tone” in the media for consumer rejection of the product.

Vilsack said USDA would never have made it an acceptable in the school lunch program if it were not safe, but he also defended a decision last week to give schools a choice about buying it. He said USDA had received “hundreds” of messages from school districts, and that the agency believes in consumer choice.

A former USDA employee called the lean, finely textured beef product “pink slime,” but the term has become popular after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver discussed it on a TV show that has gone viral on YouTube.

Branstad said it was hard to identify where the opposition to the product came from, but noted “there are groups that don’t like meat consumption and would like to scare people away from consuming meat.”