* Cargill customers request beef without filler meat
* Cargill will scale back filler beef production
* Governors to tour beef plant
* Prices of cattle futures tumble
By Meredith Davis and Andrew Stern
CHICAGO, March 28 Agribusiness giant Cargill Inc
said on Wednesday that it has reduced production of a beef
filler, called "pink slime" by critics, that is used in
hamburgers in the wake of its customers eliminating it from
The move by Cargill, a major U.S. beef producer, comes two
days after Beef Products Inc., the largest producer of the
filler that is formally known in the industry as lean finely
textured beef (FTB), shut down three of four plants that produce
it meat, following a campaign against it by consumer activists.
The meat industry and some state governors are fighting back
claiming the product is safe. The governor of Iowa called the
controversy a smear campaign that should be countered.
The consumer backlash caused a 1 percent drop in Chicago
Mercantile Exchange cattle futures on Wednesday as
investors feared overall beef sales would be hurt.
Any significant pullback in beef sales would come at a time
when beef companies are gearing up for the spring grilling
season, which is expected to kick off sooner than usual due to
this year's unseasonably mild weather.
"Some Cargill customers have eliminated FTB from their
products. Some Cargill fresh beef customers have asked us to
provide ground beef without FTB," said Mike Martin, a
spokesperson for Cargill, in an email to Reuters.
BPI's product is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill
harmful pathogens like E.coli.
Cargill uses citric acid for the same purpose, which Martin
said was approved by the U.S. Agriculture Department as a
processing aid for meat.
While Cargill has been scaling back production of the
filler, Martin said "we are not suspending FTB production."
Four of five Cargill's plants -- two in Texas, one in Kansas
and one in Nebraska -- that process cattle into beef produced
the filler beef.
On Tuesday, Jim Lochner, chief operating officer at beef
producer Tyson Foods Inc, said publicity surrounding the
beef filler had hurt demand for ground beef.
MEAT INDUSTRY FIGHTS BACK
Supporters of the U.S. meat industry are fighting back to
slow what they called a smear campaign by consumer activists
seeking a ban on "pink slime'-- a term coined by former U.S.
government scientist and whistleblower Gerald Zirnstein.
In a bid to counter the negative image of the product, Iowa
Governor Terry Branstad will accompany fellow Republican
governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rick Perry of Texas on a
tour of a Beef Products Inc plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska,
"They've been a victim of a smear campaign, and I think we
need to all we can to try to counter this," Branstad was quoted
by his spokesman as saying.
The beef industry was caught off guard by the campaign
against the product, which started after celebrity chef Jamie
Oliver devoted a television show to deriding the filler last
Responding to consumer pressure, McDonald's last August
stopped putting the textured beef in hamburgers, followed by
some other fast food companies.
The beef industry says the product is 98 percent lean meat
and the USDA says that it is safe. But images of an unsightly
glob of filler, which have circulated on the Internet, have left
a negative impression with some consumers.
Last week, the Agriculture Department said school districts
will be able to opt out of using the ammonia-treated beef filler
in school lunch programs.
The department, which purchases about one-fifth of the food
served in U.S. schools, said it was responding to calls from
districts to be given more choices in purchases of ground beef
products. It said it only bought products for the school lunch
program that were safe, nutritious and affordable, including
those containing the filler.
After the USDA announcement, the nation's top three
supermarket chains -- Kroger Co, Safeway Inc and Supervalu Inc
all said they would no longer sell hamburger containing the
product. Walmart, the nation's largest food seller, said it
would no longer use the product in its trays of hamburger.
Beef Products said suspending production at the three plants
will cost 650 jobs in Texas, Kansas and Iowa.