Congressman Adrian Smith regrets a negative label seems to have stuck to a beef product, crippling sales and forcing the closing of three plants.
BPI has been unable to shake the tag “pink slime” from the product it calls “lean, finely textured beef” that has been produced under federal approval since 1974. The company, located in South Dakota, has announced it will close factories in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, Iowa. A plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska will remain open at reduced capacity. The move will leave 650 people without jobs.
Smith says the loss of those jobs could have been avoided with accurate information about the product.
“So there was a deliberate effort, really, to describe an industry in a way that was inaccurate,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network. “That’s what’s unfortunate, especially when it takes health-care away from hard-working Americans.”
The uproar crippled BPI sales. Efforts to turn the tide have proven ineffective.
The company blames 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 worked 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.
Smith isn’t as critical of how the USDA reacted to the controversy as some, though he says he would have liked to have seen a more aggressive response by the Department of Agriculture.
Smith says it has yet to be seen what effect, ultimately, the controversy will have on BPI.
“It could very well cause some permanent damage. I mean, time will tell,” Smith says. “I do have hope, though, that consumers will say, hey, we want the affordable, safe alternatives that technologically are available. Let’s continue to engage in the marketplace and create a demand that will bring back some of these plants.”
BPI plans to close the plants on May 25th.
AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Congressman Adrian Smith on BPI plant closings. [3:33]