Yesterday Beef Products Inc., the company that pioneered lean finely textured beef, announced it was temporarily closing its plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa. The company will continue operations at its headquarters in Dakota Dunes, S.D. Those closures put about 600 people out of work as the company continues to fight a public perception battle with the media and consumers. BPI says it will give those workers laid off a 60 day severance package that includes pay and benefits.
The company was hit hard following ABC news reports regarding lean finely textured beef, referred to as 'pink slime.' Following the media frenzy, several major retailers, restaurants as well as several school districts boycotted the product in their ground beef purchases as consumers demanded the product not be used.
"Congratulations, ABC World News. Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast" said J. Patrick Boyle, American Meat Institute President, in a statement. "A three-week war waged on a beef product called lean finely textured beef came to a painful head as hundreds of people lost their jobs when one of the primary processors shuttered three plants. While lean finely texture beef was given a catchy and clever nickname in 'pink slime,' the impact of alarming broadcasts about this safe and wholesome beef product by Jamie Oliver, ABC News and others are no joke to those families that are now out of work."
According to a story in the Amarillo Globe News, BPI founder Eldon Roth came to Amarillo, where the Texas plant is located, to tell the employees about the decision to close and hold a press conference for local media.
"While we’re doing our best to communicate the facts about our product, the media firestorm over a manufactured scandal has caused real damage to our company," said Craig Letch, the company’s director of food safety and quality assurance. "We’re doing everything we can to set the record straight, but we know this will take time."
Meanwhile beef industry advocates are also working to set the record straight by explaining the product to consumers via social media by providing facts and information about lean finely textured beef: Beef Advocates on High Alert.
The BPI plants shutting down produced 600,000 pounds of lean finely textured beef product and used beef trimmings from local meatpackers in the area.
In response the the loss of the BPI's business, Tyson Foods said it was making adjustments, according to the Amarillo Globe News report. "Our company is one of many beef processors that sell beef trimmings to BPI. The reduction of BPI’s operations means less lean meat will be recovered and more of the beef trimmings will be converted into lower-value products," said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson. "We’re making some modifications in our production processes to adjust for this change. We’re also making adjustments to accommodate our customers that no longer want BPI’s Lean Finely Textured Beef in their ground beef."
In a time of shorter cattle supplies, this will further pressure beef prices and consumers will probably see an increase in ground beef prices.
"American families will also pay the price at the checkout counter as they see the price of ground beef begin to rise while we work to grow as many as 1.5 million more head of cattle to replace the beef that will no longer be consumed due to this manufactured scare," said Boyle.