SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. – “Dude, it’s beef.”
That was the message leaders of several states and representatives of federal and state agriculture agencies wanted to get into the public arena after they toured the Beef Products Inc. plant March 29 accompanied by print and broadcast media.
The purpose of the tour was to counter negative publicity surrounding BPI’s signature product, lean finely textured beef (LFTB). By restoring public confidence in LFTB, the coalition also hoped to save the hundreds of jobs lost when BPI’s owner, Eldon Roth, was forced to shut down three of the company’s plants.
Participants in the tour were able to see the cuts of beef used to make LFTB. They were also shown how LFTB is made and what it looks like before and after being incorporated into ground beef. There was a press conference after the tour during which state leaders reaffirmed their support for BPI and the wholesomeness of LFTB.
Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels participated in the tour along with US Under Secretary of Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. Also joining the tour were several of the states' Secretaries of Agriculture, Gary Acuff, director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M Univ., College Station and Nancy Donley, founder of STOP Foodborne Illness.
"Pink slime completely mischaracterizes the beef Eldon and his company make. Reporters need to stop using the term and scaring people unnecessarily,” Acuff said. “I have been through this facility many times, and I can tell you this product is 100 percent beef and is produced in a way that is safe.”
Donley, whose six-year-old son, Alex, died from E. coli O157:H7 in a hamburger he had eaten, said BPI has made beef safer for consumers. She told reporters that there are good companies and bad companies, and that consumers should be encouraging companies such as BPI that take responsible steps to ensure food is safe for consumers.
"I just can't imagine why anyone would vilify what Eldon and his family have done. They have made beef safer," Donley said. "The governors and journalists saw today what I have seen in my previous visits to the facility: BPI has a high level of commitment to safety.
“A product that is 100 percent beef is being unfairly maligned,” she added. “I do hope people learn about the process themselves and reconsider their concern because it would be a tremendous disservice to the safety of our food supply to take the intervention used to produce BPI's lean beef off the market."
A tense moment in the press conference occurred when Gov. Rick Perry confronted ABC News reporter Jim Avila about his reporting on LFTB. Avila, who didn’t respond immediately, said that ABC News never reported that LFTB was unsafe, merely that it was not labeled on ground beef packaging.