LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Beef Products Inc. will close processing plants in three states this month because of the controversy surrounding its meat product that critics have dubbed "pink slime," a company official said Monday.
About 650 jobs will be lost when the plants close on May 25 in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo Iowa, company spokesman Rich Jochum said. A plant in South Sioux City, Neb., will remain open but run at reduced capacity.
The South Dakota-based company blamed the closures on what it said were unfounded attacks over its lean, finely textured beef. During its processing, bits of beef are heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill bacteria. The filler has been used for years and meets federal food safety standards.
But the company suspended operations at the three plants in March amid public uproar over the filler. BPI has declined to discuss financial details, but has said it took a "substantial" hit after social media exploded with worry over the product and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools drew hundreds of thousands of supporters.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided that school districts may stop using it, and some retail chains have pulled products containing it from their shelves.
Company officials had hoped to recover but have since realized that doing so wasn't possible in the near future, Jochum said Monday. The company paid its 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.
State executives who have supported the company blamed what they considered a smear campaign against the product, which has drawn scrutiny even though they and industry officials insist that it's safe.
"This is a sad day for the state of Iowa," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. "The fact that a false, misleading smear campaign can destroy a company's reputation overnight should disturb us all."
The Republican governor said the workers will "go home to their families and will soon be without a job, all because some media on the coasts decided to unfairly and viciously smear the product they so proudly produced."
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