There were ground beef patties containing lean, finely textured beef sizzling on the grill Tuesday on the Iowa State University campus. Occupy Ames and ISU protesters, CREDO Super Pac members, Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Congressman Steve King were there, too.
With all of the hoopla, there was still time for a few minutes of science about the beef additive recently negatively coined "pink slime."
Animal Science Professor Jim Dickson described the lean, finely textured beef process during a panel discussion, “The Truth: Lean, Finely Textured Beef,” to an audience of about 400 people. Dickson, one of six panelists, has worked with BPI on the product for the past decade.
“It is in fact lean beef,” he said. “It's a very fine texture.”
Dickson told the audience that after cattle is trimmed of cuts like steak and roasts, the trim is heated to just below a live cow's body temperature and the rest of the meat is spun from fat. BPI started a process about 10 years ago in which that spun meat was injected with a gas form of ammonia, killing bacteria such as e. coli. It's then frozen and cut into cubes to be added to ground beef before consumers purchase it at the grocery store.
“Ammonia is a natural product,” Dickson said.
After the presentation, Dickson said the frozen LFTB cubes, the product itself, contain 400 parts of ammonia per million and the ground beef it's mixed with that consumers find at the store normally has 200 parts of ammonia per million. The ph level is about 8.5.
Dickson said he has heard and Gov. Terry Branstad said during the discussion on Tuesday that other products like cheese and tofu contain more ammonia than meat mixed with lean, finely textured beef.
Animal science students at ISU said Monday that the filler makes lean meat more palatable, but there's no telling which ground beef has it since it's not labeled as such.
Before the panel discussion, protesters, including a Churdan farmer, took turns blasting the BPI product, trying to shout over passing CyRide buses. They said politicians like Branstad and King represented corporate farming interests rather than local family farmers.
George Naylor, of Churdan, about 55 miles west of Ames, said that he grew corn and soybeans but would like to raise cattle if he could come up with a good way to market grass-fed beef.
He thought he might say consumers would know that at least his hamburger “wasn't contaminated with pink slime.”
Deborah Bunka, a member of Occupy Ames, said she had a lot of concerns about the food-safety chain, but was also upset with how the student-hosted panel was handled. She said that it all seemed like propaganda to her. She wondered whether the students willingly hosted the panel discussion or not.
“Whether they sponsored it of their own free will is questionable,” she said.
ISU Student Chelsey Branderhorst said on Monday that it was an honor.