Beef Products Inc., which manufactures lean finely textured beef — the product decried in recent months as ‘pink slime’ — has announced it will shut down three of its four plants on May 25.
The move comes a month and a half after the company temporarily suspended operations at the three plants on March 25, citing a need to repair its damaged public image and regain lost business.
The plants facing closure are located in Amarillo, TX; Garden City, KS; and Waterloo, IA. The company’s remaining plant is in South Sioux City, NE and is still operating at reduced capacity, according to a statement by company spokesperson Rich Jochum.
“We intend to continue operations at this location and expand production here as the market activity allows,” Jochum said. “In the interim, we continue to stand by our lean beef as 100 percent wholesome, safe and nutritious, and we will continue to defend Beef Products Inc. against the mischaracterized and irresponsible misrepresentations that led us to take these actions.”
Between the three plants, BPI will be forced to cut more than 650 jobs. The meat processor will continue to pay the salaries of those workers until the plants officially close.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad also issued a statement decrying the public campaign against BPI’s product. The closure of BPI’s plant in Waterloo will result in approximately 200 lost jobs.
“This is a sad day for the state of Iowa,” Branstad said. “The fact that a false, misleading smear campaign can destroy a company’s reputation overnight should disturb us all. My office will never stop fighting for every single job in this state, and I continue to hope that as consumers learn about this safe, healthy and lean food, they will understand what a great product lean, finely textured beef truly is.”
Branstad has been a vocal proponent of BPI and lean finely textured beef (LFTB), hosting a press conference and tour with other Midwest governors days after BPI first suspended operations at its three plants.
But David Knowles, the journalist who kick-started the recent round of ‘pink slime’ media coverage for the iPad newspaper The Daily, said that BPI’s profits were in danger long before he ever wrote about the product.
“As I point out in the article I just filed that will appear in Tuesday’s issue of The Daily, the thing that really started the ball rolling on this was McDonald’s, Burger King’s and Taco Bell’s decision to drop BPI’s product,” Knowles told Food Safety News. “That happened months before my reporting, and represented a huge hit to their business.”
ABC News senior correspondent Jim Avila is credited with bringing the ‘pink slime’ story to a national audience during a March 7 report on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. He blamed BPI’s tendency toward secrecy and nondisclosure as their real downfall.
“It was consumer reaction to a policy that said, ‘You don’t deserve to know what is in your burger’ that sunk BPI,” Avila told Food Safety News. “BPI continually told me and consumers, ‘You just don’t understand how hamburger is made,’ but clearly the shoppers understood how they didn’t want it made.”
“No one wants job losses and I do feel bad about lost jobs, but their anger is misdirected,” Avila went on. “It was BPI policy and slow reaction to the changing world of social media that caused the shutdowns.”
Following the public backlash, many grocery stores announced that they would either discontinue selling ground beef that included LFTB or they would label the ground beef that included the product. Dozens of Congress members petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require labels, and even BPI eventually came out in support of voluntary labeling.
And that, Avila said, was a positive change.
“Here is what I’m most proud of: When I go into most supermarkets today and buy ground beef, the butcher has labeled or knows and will tell me if LFTB is in it,” Avila said. “Full disclosure is always best.”
Jochum asked readers to visit BeefIsBeef.com for updates about LFTB and BPI’s continued operations.
Food Safety News has published a timeline of the ‘pink slime’ controversy that can be read here.