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Russell said the pink slime outcry has already hurt BPI and other meat companies and could eventually hurt the price that ranchers and feedlots receive for cattle.

“It’s costing them and other companies a lot of money,” Mr. Russell said.

BPI did get some good news Wednesday when Iowa-based grocer Hy-Vee said it would offer beef with and without pink slime because some consumers demanded the option. But larger grocery store chains, such as Kroger, have stuck with their decisions to stop offering beef with pink slime.

The real test for the future of BPI and pink slime may come later this year when school districts purchase meat from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for next school year. The USDA said earlier this month that it would give school districts a choice between 95 percent lean beef that contains pink slime and less-lean beef without it.

Mr. Russell said school districts will have to decide whether they’re willing to spend roughly 16 percent more for beef without pink slime.

The USDA this year is contracted to buy 111.5 million pounds of ground beef for the National School Lunch Program. About 7 million pounds of that is from BPI.

Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis; Kristi Eaton in Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Mike Glover in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.