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Branstad, Vilsack refute smears aimed at beef product

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES — Hy-Vee Food Stores reversed a decision to take “lean finely textured beef” off its shelves Wednesday, after receiving feedback from customers and Gov. Terry Branstad.

In a statement, Hy-Vee said customers made clear they wanted to be able to make the choice for themselves whether or not to purchase a product that some have nicknamed “pink slime” as well as support companies that provide thousands of jobs in the Midwest.

“In response to this feedback, Hy-Vee has made a decision to offer both kinds of ground beef – both with and without Lean Finely Textured Beef,” Hy-Vee said in the statement. “Both products will be identified so customers can determine for themselves which type of ground beef they want to buy. This transition is under way and will be implemented in our retail stores as quickly as possible.”

At a Statehouse news conference Wednesday, Branstad, a Republican, joined U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a Democrat and former Iowa governor, in bemoaning misconceptions about the beef product. The negative publicity, which exploded in social media, has cost manufacturer Beef Products Inc. (BPI) a substantial amount of its business and forced the company to idle production at its plants in Waterloo, Garden City, Kan. and Amarillo, Texas.

“I believe that the national media have permeated this discussion with a poisonous tone that is detrimental to our beef industry, that will hurt jobs and will hurt cattle producers in the state of Iowa,” Branstad said. “The time for bad mouthing and distortions is over. The time for the truth to prevail and combat this ugly situation that we currently find ourselves in is here.”

For 30 years, Branstad said, U.S. consumers — including himself — have been eating the meat product. It is 100 percent beef, 95 percent lean, quality meat that costs less, is healthier and is processed in a compressed manner that kills bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, he said.

Branstad and Vilsack said the latest “scare” is similar to past concerns about apples, mad cow disease and H1N1 “swine flu” that adversely impacted fruit, beef and pork producers. The production and food safety technologies employed to make lean finely textured beef are USDA-approved, and it is produced in USDA-inspected meat processing facilities.

Vilsack said he has reiterated “without any equivocation” that the meat product is safe.

“I can guarantee you that if we felt that this was unsafe, we wouldn’t allow it to be marketed and we wouldn’t make it part of our school lunch program,” Vilsack said.

Today, Branstad and governors of states where BPI has suspended operations plan to tour a BPI plant in South Sioux City, Neb.

Branstad said agriculture interests and proponents have to “move very quickly” to counter misleading information. He added that he suspected the misinformation was being fanned by groups opposed to meat consumption, but said “I don’t think we can identify exactly where this is coming from.”

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