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BPI closing 3 plants, South Sioux City will remain open

Monday, May 7, 2012

Beef Products Inc. will close its processing plants in three states this month because of the controversy surrounding its lean finely textured beef meat product, company officials said Monday.

About 650 jobs will be lost when plants are closed in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, company spokesman Rich Jochum said. The closures will take effect May 25.

A plant in South Sioux City, Neb., will remain open, but run at reduced capacity.

The company based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., blamed the closures on what it said were unfounded attacks over its lean, finely textured beef. In the process, bits of beef are heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill bacteria.

The company suspended operations last month at the three plants. Company officials hoped to recover, but have since realized that doing so wasn't possible in the near future, Jochum said. The company continued to pay workers during the suspension.

"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," Jochum said in a statement. "While we had hoped to be able to resume operation at those plants, that is not going to be possible in the immediate future."

State officials who have supported the company blamed what they considered a smear campaign against the product, which has drawn scrutiny even though industry officials say it's safe.

The product has been criticized since a 2009 New York Times report. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has railed against it, and it made headlines after McDonald's and other major chains discontinued their use last year.

But a recent piece by The Daily on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's purchase of meat that included lean finely textured beef for school lunches touched a nerve with a Texas blogger who focuses on kids' food. She started an online petition asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to halt its use in school food, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced earlier this year that starting in the fall it would give schools the option of choosing ground beef that doesn't contain it.

The Associated Press provided this report.

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