Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a press conference with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad Wednesday to clarify some of facts regarding Lean Finely Textured Beef. Vilsack told those assembled that the product is safe and is a leaner beef product.
"Lean Finely Textured Beef is a safe product," Vilsack said. "We've said that repeatedly and there is no question about it. It is also a lean beef product with lower fat content, which that's one of the reasons we've made it a staple of the National School Lunch program."
There has been a great deal of misinformation about Lean Finely Textured Beef recently. LFTB is made by taking fatty meat left over from other cuts, which are heated and spun to remove most of the fat, and the lean mix then is compressed into blocks and exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. The result is a product, which has been used for years and meets federal food safety standards, that is as much as 97% lean beef.
The second issue the Vilsack spoke to was giving school districts a choice of whether or not they wanted to use LFTB. He said that USDA had received comments from hundreds of schools that were concerned about the product. Although USDA will not discontinue the production of LFTB, he says that USDA's job is to listen to customers and provide choices, not mandates.
"We hope as this choice is being made that it is based on facts," Vilsack said. "That this product is safe, that this product contains less fat, and has historically been less expensive. If people understand the facts then obviously they'll make the right choices for the school districts and their families."
Vilsack also expressed his hope that CEOs of grocery chains will focus on the facts as well as they examine this issue and make decisions for their individual stores.
Governor Branstad says that Hy-Vee has made the decision to make LFTB available in their stores, a move that he praised. Branstad plans to meet with other governors to present facts to other grocery chains and the public.
"We have to move very swiftly when there is misinformation out there," Branstad said. "We've got to turn the corner with the facts as fast as we can. USDA has been trying to do this and that is why I've enlisted my fellow governors to help with this. We are trying to get experts from the food industry and everywhere else we can. This is important to the beef industry and we need to move as quickly as we can to present accurate, correct information."