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article image'Pink slime' maker shuts down 3 plants, 650 jobs lost

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By Leigh Goessl     May 9, 2012 in Business
Beef Products Inc., the maker of the controversial lean finely textured beef (LFTB), has announced the company will be closing down three plants this month.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Beef Products Inc. will close the three plants during the month of May. Currently, the three plants, located in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas, and Waterloo, Iowa will close on May 25.
The company's fourth plant, located in South Sioux City, Nebraska, will remain operational, but run at reduced capacity.
Approximately 650 jobs will be lost with this closing.
The reason attributed to BPI's closing of the plants is lowered demand for LFTB. In March, the South Dakota-based company had provisionally suspended a large percentage of their operations after controversy over the "pink slime" continued to rise and, as a result, demand for LFTB significantly dropped.
"While we had hoped to be able to resume operation at those plants, that is not going to be possible in the immediate future and the temporary suspension of operations will in fact result in the elimination of those jobs effective May 25, 2012," the company said in a statement (courtesy of Reuters).
Over the past several months, the "pink slime" has sparked much controversy and consumer reaction. In response, many grocery stores and fast food outlets, such as McDonald's, renounced the controversial beef bits that are treated with ammonia.
Additionally, public schools can opt to choose products not containing the lean finely textured beef in federal lunch programs. In March, an announcement was made that schools will be able to independently decide whether or not they want to purchase LFTB.
BPI blames the negative press and social media backlash as primary contributors to its current problems. The company hopes the future will be more promising than the dismal financial outlook it is currently experiencing.
Company spokesman Rich Jochum said in a statement, "We will continue communicating the benefits of BPI's lean beef, but that process is much more difficult than [countering] the campaign to spread misinformation that brought us to this point."
Lean finely textured beef is legal in the U.S. for human consumption, but banned throughout most of Europe; the product, which is made from fatty trimmings, is only allowed to be used in pet food on the other side of the Atlantic. The ammonia is used because these trimmings are more susceptible to contamination.
The phrase "pink slime" was coined by a former U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) microbiologist in 2002, whose comments were shared in a widely viewed 2009 New York Times piece. While many are grossed out by the thought of the beef filler that has long been added to a majority of U.S. ground beef, one of the primary issues people had was the fact LFTB was not required to be labeled on beef packaging. Purportedly, this lack of transparency was promoted by the companies producing it, asking the USDA if the ammonia treated beef could be labeled as a "processing agent."
Had BPI been transparent about its product from the beginning instead of waiting until early April 2012 to ask the USDA for option to label the LFTB as such, would things have played out differently for BPI? After all, much of the outrage was due to the lack of transparency about what people were putting in their mouths.
Author Marion Nestle spoke up. The Detroit Free Press reported her as seeing BPI as misinterpreting "the public concern as a food-safety issue, instead of recognizing that critics were focused on not knowing what was added to their food and the belief that they were deceived."
Nestle said, "It's always sad when people are put out of work. But this company, they could have handled the whole situation differently. ... They were faced with a public relations disaster of really astonishing proportions."
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