- Associated Press - Thursday, March 29, 2012

SOUTH SIOUX CITY, NEB. Governors of three states donned coats, hairnets and goggles to tour a main production plant for “pink slime” Thursday, hoping to persuade wary consumers and grocery stores to accept that the processed beef product with the off-putting nickname is as safe as the industry insists.

Three governors and two lieutenant governors spent about a half-hour touring Beef Products Inc.’s plant to show their support for the company and the thousands of jobs it creates in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas.

“It’s beef, but it’s leaner beef, which is better for you,” Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad said after watching a presentation of how the textured beef product is made and taking a walking tour of the plant.

Beef Products, the main producer of the cheap lean beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts, has drawn extra scrutiny because of concerns about the ammonium hydroxide it treats meat with to adjust the acidity of the beef and kill bacteria. The company suspended operations at plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa this week, affecting 650 jobs because of plunging demand, but it defends its product as safe.

While the official name is lean finely textured beef, critics dub it “pink slime” and say it’s an unappetizing example of industrialized food production. That term was coined by a disgusted federal microbiologist, but the product meets federal food safety standards and has been used for years.

The politicians who toured the plant Mr. Branstad, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy and South Dakota Lt. Gov. Matt Michels - endorse the industry view that the beef product has been unfairly maligned and mislabeled and issued a joint statement earlier saying the product is safe.

The officials - all Republicans - spent about 20 minutes going over the production process in a separate room at the plant with Craig Letch, the company’s director of quality assurance, seeing examples of the raw pieces of beef next to the processed, unfrozen finished product.

None of the officials tasted the product. Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said earlier that the governor planned to eat some at a community picnic this weekend.

Russell Cross, a former administrator of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the product is getting a bad rap.

“I’m not saying it’s perfectly safe. Nothing is perfectly safe. All food is going to have bacteria in it. But this product has never been in question for safety,” he said.