Monday, April 2

An Open Letter to Governor Branstad: I've Got a Beef, Dude

Dear Governor Branstad,

Let me first mention that I did not vote for you, but I did not vote for Chet Culver either. I generally didn't expect that you would be a good governor for working Iowans or for those of us who think that consumers should have the right to know what goes in their and their children's food. I am writing this to express my dismay at the political theater that you have most recently engaged surrounding BPI and the production of the meat by-product that they produce. I'd also like to state that I am not a Vegan and love a good hamburger, as you also appear to do. Lastly, I understand that you promised to create upwards in the neighborhood of 250,000 jobs and the threat to 200 employees in Waterloo at BPI because of legitimate concerns over how they make the "lean finely textured beef" trimmings product (that has been labeled "pink slime"--a nickname that both you and BPI wish for consumers to strike from our vocabularies) does not help. 

As the state's CEO, I can see how you would legitimately be concerned about the loss of jobs, although at the moment, the workers are on paid leave for 60 days while BPI seeks to reclaim the public trust or at least the confidence of customers who recently bailed on them. However your support does not seem to be about those workers, but rather the support of the company's management and their business practices.

 I understand that as a governor of an agricultural state, you are called to fend off attacks that could impact the larger industry that so much of our state economy is based on, but I also understand that many people legitimately want to know what they are feeding their families (or their schools are) and don't feel that this product passes the smell test (sort of like when McDonald's used earthworms in their hamburgers years ago). 

In fairness to BPI and meat by-product producers, it is not really their fault that people perceive their product as less than pure beef, certainly they are not covering up the process, and in recent days have gone out of their way to show how the product is made. However, this product originally was created to process animal feed and through calculated efforts has been approved by the USDA as okay for people too. It doesn't help that the process takes the leftover parts of the cow and send it through a series of steps that is reminiscent of the production of Soylent Green, albeit really purified, free-of-e.coli beef product. 

It is true that if the meat that is produced were labelled appropriately, then consumers could make an informed choice of whether they want to pay for 100% pure chuck or 80% pure chuck and the leavings of 20% of other parts of cattle that has been treated with ammonia hydroxide, frozen, and mixed into the other meat. 

But this is where I take exception to your actions after you visited the plant (Seriously, the lab coat and hair net? Not a good look.): 
To write to state superintendents and to say "If this product ceases to exist in schools, grocery stores and restaurants, it is estimated that 3,000 jobs could be eliminated. This product is proudly raised, fed, processed, packaged, transported and sold by parents of your school’s students. By supporting this great Iowa product and serving it in your schools, you will send a strong signal on behalf of those who rely on it for their living." is nothing short of political arm twisting bordering on extortion. It is the job of educators to educate and even I know that meat is not so healthy as other choices. However, I don't see you sending them letters to encourage more broccoli in school diets or to encourage them to remove vending machines with sodas and candy. 

Also, I don't see you addressing the workers whose jobs were taken from them and mobilizing workforce development resources to help find a new job, whether it is the 200 people who worked (and may yet be called back to work) in Waterloo or the other 2800 jobs (I'm sort of confused who these people might be, since BPI doesn't employ them), I'd think that you'd be most worried about making sure that they had the resources to go back to work as soon as possible.

Finally, it appears that the BPI owners have chosen to keep their South Dakota plant open, at the expense of the plant in Waterloo. I don't know if this makes you mad, but it would me, if I were governor. Iowa employees are hard working and don't deserve to be sidelined, but BPI has decided that its Iowa workers are less important, non-essential, and that  hurts. While you were on tour with Governor's Brownback and Perry, surely you got the sense of what those jobs are like to those who do them every day. Don't you think that  you owe them the kind of tenaciousness that you unleashed at the BPI press conference?

I have some small recommendations for you, lean finely textured beef, if you will: 1) Order that all beef in Iowa be labelled as to its content. If it is 100% pure lean finely textured beef, let it be proclaimed proudly. This would probably help create jobs, by the way. 2) Retract the letter you sent to the state school superintendents, let school districts decide locally what their course of action should be. 3) Put the state's resources to good use in helping the BPI workers to find a new job, if in 60 days they are permanently furloughed. 3) Boycott products from South Dakota--it will serve them right--their own governor didn't even go to the BPI event and they got to keep all of their jobs. Alternatively, boycott the Sturgis Bike Rally. 4) On behalf of fashionable Iowans, never wear a white lab coat and hair net again--it makes you look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.