September 18, 2014

BPI cannot shake “pink slime” tag, decides to close three plants

The tag “pink slime” seems to be too much to shake, no matter how hard Beef Products Inc. attempted to get the public to use its preferred label “lean, finely textured beef”.

The uproar over pink slime sent sales sinking and has now caused BPI to announce it will close processing plants in three states this month, keeping a plant in Nebraska open at a reduced capacity. The closures will cost 650 workers their jobs. The company plans to close plans in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, Iowa on May 25th. A plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska will remain open.

The company is based in South Dakota. It blamed the loss in sales which led to the decision to close plants on unfounded attacks on a product that has been used as a filler for years. BPI produces the product by heating bits of beef and treating them with small amounts of ammonia to kill bacteria. It meets federal food safety standards.

Critics used social media to spread concern about the product, calling it “pink slime”. The label became a byword among agricultural groups which work hard to overcome the tag and assure the public the product was safe. Nothing seemed to work. An online petition seeking to end its use in schools attracted hundreds of thousands of supporters.

“The recent news BPI will be permanently laying off 650 workers due to a baseless media scare is extremely unsettling. There are real life consequences when we stray from using sound science to determine product safety,” Congressman Adrian Smith.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson also blamed the closings on the media uproar over the product.

“We are saddened to learn that 650 hard-working Americans will be without jobs due to a misinformation media frenzy that inaccurately and unfairly targeted a beef product that has been deemed safe by USDA since 1974,” Nelson said in a written statement.

“The closure of these plants and the inability of lean, finely textured beef to recover from the baseless negative exposure it received is exactly why Nebraska Farm Bureau expressed disappointment directly to USDA in a letter to the agency questioning its decision to offer alternatives to lean, finely textured beef through its school lunch programs. That decision only furthered unfounded fears about the safety of the product. It is our opinion that USDA failed in its mission to use science to base its decisions.”