DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack say they are launching a campaign against misinformation about a processed beef product that is being vilified publicly.
Speaking Wednesday at an Iowa Statehouse news conference, Branstad, a Republican, and Vilsack, a Democrat, argued the product they referred to as "lean, finely textured beef" is safe, nutritious and low in fat. Vilsack said the USDA wouldn't allow it if the product wasn't safe and wholesome. Vilsack's wife is running for Congress in the district that includes Sioux City, across the river from the plant where the product comes from.
Branstad will join other beef-state governors and lieutenant governors Thursday to tour the Beef Products Inc. plant in South Sioux City, Neb. A public uproar about the product prompted the company to suspend operations at plants in Amarillo, Texas, Garden City, Kan. and Waterloo, Iowa.
Branstad said he'll eat some of the meat to demonstrate it's safe.
He and the governors of Nebraska and other states have pledged to help the company counter the bad publicity about the product.
National news media have taken a poisonous tone that is detrimental to the beef industry, Branstad told a news conference. "The time for bad mouthing and distortions is over," he said. "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 he -- have been eating the product that is 100 percent beef, 95 percent lean, quality beef that costs less, is healthier and is processed to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.
He and Vilsack said the latest "scare" is similar to past panics about apples, mad cow disease and H1N1 "swine flu" that adversely affected fruit, beef and pork producers.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Texas Gov. Rick Perry accepted Branstad's invitation to join him on a tour of BPI's plant in South Sioux City, Neb., on Thursday. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, who has a scheduling conflict that day, plans to send Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy to the event.
South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels also plans to attend.
They hope to change the tenor of the debate over BPI's product, which critics have maligned as "pink slime."
The negative publicity has cost BPI a substantial amount of its business, forcing the Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based company on Monday to suspend production at the three plants. The company said it plans to pay the employees at those plants for the 60 days production is suspended.
The only other factory, in South Sioux City, still is open, but production and hours there have been reduced.
If it doesn't shift public opinion, the company may have no choice but to permanently close the Iowa, Kansas and Texas plants, administrator Rich Jochum said.
Branstad said Tuesday he plans to push Vilsack, himself a former Iowa governor, to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture again supply all schools with BPI's product. Bowing to public pressure, the USDA recently gave individual schools the option to receive ground beef that does not include BPI's lean product.
The governors released a statement encouraging retailers to reconsider their decisions to remove BPI's product from their coolers and freezers.
BPI's product is made from trimmings left over after carcasses are cut into steaks or roasts. A centrifuge separates the lean beef from the fat, creating a fabricated product that is more than 95 percent lean, according to the company. The meat is treated with a mist of ammonium hydroxide, commonly used in food processing, to prevent or eliminate bacteria.