March 28 (Bloomberg) -- An ammonia-treated meat known as lean, finely textured beef is safe to eat, even after some food companies have cut back or halted use of the product, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
Beef Products Inc., which treats beef trimmings with ammonia hydroxide to kill pathogens, has temporarily suspended operations at three plants because of consumer concerns about the product that is being called “pink slime” by food activists. Eldon Roth, the chief executive officer of the Dakota Dunes, South Dakota-based company, said in a statement that the product is “100 percent wholesome, safe and nutritious.”
“This product is safe,” the USDA’s Vilsack said today during a press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, that was broadcast on the state government’s website. “There’s no question about it. We have said that repeatedly. This product is safe. This product contains less fat, and this product historically is less expensive.”
Earlier this month, the USDA said that schools in the government’s lunch program can choose to order ground beef without the lean, finely textured beef following public pressure to remove the product from cafeterias. More than 220,000 people signed an online petition calling on the agency to stop using the meat product in the federal school-lunch program, which the agency administers.
The USDA would not have allowed the product to be marketed or used in the school lunch program if the agency felt it was unsafe, Vilsack said today. The product was made a “staple” of the school lunch program in part because it’s a leaner beef product, he said.
Several fast-food restaurant chains have stopped using the lean beef, including McDonald’s Corp., the world’s largest restaurant chain, Burger King Holdings Inc. and Yum! Brands Inc.’s Taco Bell. McDonald’s dropped the ingredient to be “consistent with our global beef-supply chain,” according to a statement from the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company.
Grocery executives should “focus on the facts” as they make decisions for their stores’ supplies, Vilsack said.
The shuttered Beef Product plants are in Garden City, Kansas; Amarillo, Texas; and Waterloo, Iowa, the company said. The suspension at the plant in Waterloo impacts 200 jobs, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said at the press conference with Vilsack.
“During a time when we’re all working hard as a nation to create new jobs, watching these facilities shut down is even harder to take since we know that concern over the safety of this product is simply unfounded,” Branstad said. “The national media have permeated this discussion with a poisonous tone that is detrimental to our beef industry.”
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