Branstad seeks Congressional investigation of beef controversy

Governor Terry Branstad doubled down today in support of lean finely textured beef. Not only is he urging schools to keep using the product, he wants Congress to investigate the “smear campaign” by critics of so-called “pink slime.”

Follow me after the jump for the governor’s latest comments and Senator Chuck Grassley’s more measured defense of lean finely textured beef.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Branstad held two press conferences last week and organized a factory tour by several governors to defend the safety and benefits of lean finely textured beef. Not only that, Branstad suggested in a letter to Iowa superintendents that school lunches would be less safe without ground beef containing the product.

The safety of this food is unmatched. In more than 20 years, there has not been one sickness or death associated with E. Coli or other bacteria. If lean, finely textured beef is pulled from schools in Iowa, the risks will be greater in using products deemed less safe.

Perhaps even more important is the battle we are waging against childhood obesity. First Lady Michelle Obama recently joined me at a rally where 10,000 students learned the value of exercise, eating well and taking good care of their bodies. By removing this lean product, schools will be forced to serve a fattier, unhealthier product. My goal is to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation over the next 5 years. We will not get there if we take a step backwards by removing lean, finely textured beef.

It’s one thing to claim that ground beef containing scraps and connective tissue treated with ammonia is no less safe than ordinary ground beef. Branstad seems now to be asserting that lean finely textured beef is some kind of superior health food. I don’t know of any evidence supporting that claim, and like Bradshaw, I doubt the governor routinely eats beef containing this by-product in his daily life.

The topic came up again today at Branstad’s regular weekly press conference, as the governor called for a Congressional investigation into the “smear campaign” against lean finely textured beef. O.Kay Henderson has the audio and choice excerpts:

Governor Terry Branstad suggests not only vegetarians, but “Hollywood”, “some celebrity chefs” and the “media elites” are behind what he characterizes as an attack on the beef industry.

“We need to get to the bottom of this,” Branstad said this morning. “We need to find out who’s behind it and why they’re doing it.” […]

On Friday Branstad sent a letter to Iowa school superintendents, asking them to keep using products that contain the lean, finely-textured beef additive.

“I’m going to send a letter today to every governor in America, encourage that they do the same thing,” Branstad said. “…Tell their superintendents, ‘Don’t be bull[i]ed by this smear campaign. Don’t let this misinformation persuade you to do the wrong thing,’ and yet we have a smear campaign going on against a product that is healthy, that is safe and has, frankly, helped combat some of the issues in the past such as e-coli and salmonella.”

Branstad spoke of the issue this morning during his weekly statehouse news conference. The governor repeatedly pounded the lectern as he spoke, vowing the “fight” to defend the beef additive had “just begun.”

“To counter what Hollywood and the media elites and the people that are spreading these misinformation and this smear campaign, we need to expose who they are and why they’re doing it!” Branstad said, his voice rising with each phrase until even he realized the escalation. “Other than that, I don’t care a lot about it.”

Last week Branstad’s communications director told me that the governor doesn’t oppose labeling of lean finely textured beef so that consumers can decide whether they want to buy the product. Today he sharply criticized Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine, who advocates federal legislation on labeling products containing the product.

Branstad took offense last Thursday when a reporter implied that large campaign contributions from the owners of Beef Products Incorporated may have influenced the governor’s stand on lean finely textured beef. I understand that Branstad wants to support a product made in Iowa, but he seems to be getting too emotionally involved in this dispute. The other Iowa politicians who defended the safety of “pink slime” last week didn’t come across as angry and didn’t go to such lengths to promote the use of this product. Consumers, families, and school district officials can make up their own minds. Does every controversy over a food additive warrant a Congressional inquiry? I would rather have Congress investigate real food safety problems.

Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley took a supportive but less strident posture in this “Q & A” about beef, released by his office on April 2:

Q&A on Beef

with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q:        How do you see the recent attention given to lean finely textured beef?

A:        I enjoy and appreciate beef in a meal as often as possible, and I have confidence in this meat product, which comes from a process that separates fatty pieces from beef trimmings to reduce the overall fat content.  There’s nothing wrong with using all of the edible trimmings of an animal.  Lean finely textured beef is beef, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspects and regulates all beef products.  It has approved this product for ground beef since 1993.

Q:        What about the processing of this beef?

A:        The technology used for lean finely textured beef makes it possible to use beef that could not have been captured by hand trimming.  The edible trimmings left after other cuts of meat, including steaks and roasts, are removed from an animal and processed to separate the lean meat from the fat.  Then, an antimicrobial treatment is used to make sure the resulting lean beef product is safe to eat.

Q:        Is the antimicrobial treatment safe?

A:        Ammonium hydroxide – or ammonium combined with water – is used in food processing, including baked goods, cheeses, caramel, puddings and meat products.  The Food and Drug Administration determined that ammonium hydroxide was “Generally Recognized As Safe,” or GRAS, in 1974.  The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food products that can be processed using ammonium hydroxide in accordance with good manufacturing practices.  In the case of lean finely textured beef, an ammonium hydroxide gas controls dangerous forms of pathogens like E. coli.

Q:        What else is relevant to food safety?

A:        I’m committed to sound science practices that separate fact from fiction in food safety.  Consumers deserve it, and the consequences of misinformation and hype in March over lean finely textured beef were the layoffs of hundreds of people working for the company that produces most of this beef, including workers in Waterloo and Sioux City.  Without lean finely textured beef, as many as 1.5 million additional head of cattle could be needed to replace it in the meat supply, and the cost of ground beef for consumers would be higher.

Only two members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation have yet to weigh in on the “pink slime” controversy: Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02). I haven’t seen any comment yet from Representatives Steve King (R, IA-05) or Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03), whom Branstad contacted to request an investigation into critics of lean finely textured beef. I will update this post as needed.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: The Colbert Report had a go at Branstad and the other “Beefstate Governors” on April 2. I thought it was funny, but this bit probably made Branstad angry.

I say, far from a chemical-soaked, reconstituted hoof and organ slurry, “pink slime” is actually a delicious, wholesome meal you’d want to share with a friend. Specifically, your best friend, because up until 2001, it was used only in dog food. Which begs the question, what are we feeding our dogs now, and when do I get to eat it?

  • paranoid

    Branstad suggests not only vegetarians,,

    speaking as a vegetarian, i have no opinion on this. I have no idea what “pink  slime” is, what it looks like, or tastes like. I don’t care if other people eat beef with or without this additive (?). Not my business. Why does he think vegetarians would even care?

    • I know, it's weird

      Why would vegetarians pressure schools to get this stuff out of their kids’ lunches? Only people whose kids eat hamburgers would care.

      He’s gone way beyond defending the safety of a product to claim beef containing the product is more safe and should be actively promoted.

  • Vegetarians

    …should go underground in this state.  Recall the young woman, a high school student, I believe, who talked about being a vegetarian at an Environmental Protection Commission meeting.  She was castigated in public by one of Branstad’s appointed Commissioners for not eating meat.

    Wonder what the gov’s cardiologist has to say about it?  

    • I missed that story

      How pathetic. Which commissioner did that?

      Iowa is a better place to be a vegetarian now than it’s ever been. More varieties of fruits and vegetables are available in stores, and there are more international groceries with spices and other ingredients. Most restaurants have at least some vegetarian options.

      • Veggie

        Rekha Basu wrote about it several months ago.  I did a quick search trying to find a link to her column but could not find.  She put it in a column under the banner of upstart youngsters having the temerity to address their government, and getting told to go home, a la Hammerlink.  It would’ve been worth a column all on its own.

        Someone who was there told me about it.  This young woman (high school student) was addressing the Commission on a climate issue and mentioned in passing she was a vegetarian.  A Commissioner spoke up about how disappointed he was that she was not a meat eater and how the Commissioner’s daughter, a beef producer, would be glad to speak to her and tell her all about the benefits of beef.  The girl’s mother in the audience, a physician, almost fell off her chair, as did others present. I cannot remember the Commissioner’s name, but it was in the Basu column.

        • an alert Bleeding Heartland reader

          pointed me to this YouTube video showing EPC commissioner Dave Petty admonishing the student on June 21, 2011, telling her “you lost me” after mentioning that she was a vegetarian. How inappropriate and unprofessional. Petty is a Republican farmer, appointed by Chet Culver for a term that expires at the end of April 2013. Prediction: Branstad will reappoint him to the EPC next year.

    • They eat a lot of soy!


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