Governors from two states that continue ordering school lunch meat containing lean finely textured beef --- also known as “pink slime” --- received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from its producer, according to campaign finance reports published by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The decision by Iowa and Nebraska to continue purchasing lean finely textured beef for its schools follows letters to state superintendents from their respective governors urging them to ignore the recent public outcry against the filler.
Lean finely textured beef (LFTB) is a filler which is produced by heating beef scraps in a centrifuge to separate protein from fat, then exposing the filtered protein to ammonia gas to kill pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. The production process came to light in a 2009 New York Times expose, which quoted a former U.S.D.A. microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein referring to LFTB as “pink slime.” In 2012, the Times article was followed up by an ABC News interview with Zirnstein in which he revealed that 70 percent of the ground beef sold in American supermarkets at the time contained LFTB.
Following a public outcry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reaffirmed the safety of LFTB, but also announced additional beef options for school districts participating in its National School Lunch Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture assists over 101,000 schools and child care institutions provide meals to more than 31 million children through the School Lunch Program, which school districts voluntarily participate in to benefit from favorable prices the government agency can negotiate with private vendors.
In response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement of LFTB-free beef options for the 2012-2013 school year, the vast majority of states chose to order meat without the filler. Only South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska continued ordering school lunch meat with LFTB.
Beef Products Inc.’s Campaign Contributions
Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the producer and process patent-holder of LFTB, is headquartered in South Dakota, with production facilities in Iowa and Nebraska, as well as Texas and Kansas. In the wake of the “pink slime” controversy, the company ceased production at all of its facilities but the Nebraska plant, resulting in the loss of 650 jobs, and laid off another 86 employees from its corporate office.
To combat the negative publicity around LFTB, BPI began a public relations campaign, opening one of its processing plants for a tour by governors from beef-producing states. The tour and accompanying news conference were organized by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who received $152,000 in campaign contributions from BPI’s founders Eldon and Regina Roth in 2010. Eldon Roth also contributed $21,000 to the 2010 re-election campaign of current Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.
Brandstand and Heineman’s Pro-LFTB Letters
Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s offer of LFTB-free meat to school districts, Gov. Branstad and Gov. Heineman both sent letters to their school superintendents urging them to continue purchasing ground beef with the filler. At points, the letters from the two governors read almost identically, with the following lines appearing near verbatim in both:
“The safety of [LFTB] 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 our grocery shelves, restaurants or public school lunches, the risks will be greater in using products deemed less safe.”
“By removing this lean product, schools will be forced to serve a fattier, unhealthier product.”
“Make no mistake – if we, or the USDA, believed for a moment that the facts, science and health safety were against lean, finely textured beef, we would not be advocating for it so strongly.”
“If this product ceases to exist in schools, grocery stores and restaurants, it is estimated that 3,000 jobs will be lost.”
“It’s safe. It’s healthy. It’s the right thing to do.”