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Home / ‘Beef is beef,’ Iowa State students say at rally
Hundreds of students turned out for a “Beef is Beef” rally led by Gov. Terry Branstad Tuesday on the Iowa State University campus in what is the latest salvo in an ongoing public relations war over lean, finely textured beef, which critics call “pink slime.”
Students packed the Farm Bureau Pavilion and cheered for Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, meat industry public relations people and school officials who said the beef industry is under attack by, as Branstad put it, “a social media smear campaign.”
Students also feasted on hamburgers made with the ground beef additive by students from the ISU Block and Bridle Club, and a few were able to nab T-shirts that were tossed into the crowd during the pauses between speakers.
The shirts, in red and gold, included the Twitter hash tag #beefisbeef on the back. University officials pegged the crowd at more than 400.
“We are asking you to get on Foursquare and send tweets with the hash tag ‘beef is beef' on them,” Reynolds told the crowd. “This is not your father's media campaign.”
Lean, finely textured beef is the trade name for a product made from cattle trimmings that are treated with an ammonium hydroxide solution to kill bacteria such as E. coli.
Beef Products Inc. in South Sioux City, Neb., is a major supplier of the product. It suspended operations at plants in Waterloo, Iowa, Garden City, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas, after some grocery and restaurant chains announced they would no longer purchase the product.
Branstad, who refuses to use the term “pink slime,” said just as it isn't socially acceptable to call someone names because of their race or religion, it should be equally as unacceptable to slander lean, finely textured beef.
It's a sentiment shared by Chris Sievers, an ISU senior and member of the Block and Bridle Club that staffed the grill for the event.
“I want to get the truth out about the science, which really hasn't been told,” he said. “Beef is beef. That really is what it's about.”
Kurt Wendl, an ISU agronomy major from West Des Moines, said he thinks there is a campaign against the product being conducted by people “who want to take away another food option and who are going to raise the price of meat.”
That's not so, said Lizel Bragg, a junior accounting major from Norwalk, who attended a much smaller demonstration of about two dozen people that started about an hour before Branstad arrived. That group held up signs with messages such as “Branstad and BPI: Partners in Slime.”
“I think that it should be labeled, that's all I'm asking,” Bragg said. “Then I can make an informed choice.”
Asked about labeling, King said it's a decision best left up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His view was echoed by Jim Dickson, an ISU Animal Science and Meat Science professor who answered a question from the audience the same way after he spoke as part of the rally. Labeling isn't bad, Dickson said, and lean, finely textured beef is currently labeled appropriately according USDA regulations.
Still, Chris Petersen, president of the Iowa Farmers Union and one of the organizers of the smaller counter-rally, said labeling would be the right thing to do.
“Let capitalism work,” said Petersen, who raises hogs and cattle on his farm in Clear Lake. “This is not a smear campaign. This is people wanted to know what they buy. Listen, you can treat anything with enough ammonia and make it safe to eat. Anything.”