DAKOTA DUNES | Citing the continued fallout from a "widespread campaign of misinformation" against the company and its signature product, Beef Products Inc. on Monday laid off 86 corporate employees in metro Sioux City.
"We are deeply saddened by today's events," BPI co-founder Regina Roth said in a statement. "This causes very personal heartache for us. We are not some big conglomerate, but a small family-owned business. We personally know and have worked side by side with these people and our family will never be the same with this loss."
The latest round of layoffs came a week after the Dakota Dunes-based firm announced plans to shutter three of its four plants and cut 650 jobs by May 25. Many of the office jobs eliminated Monday provided support to idled plants in Waterloo, Iowa, Garden City, Kan., and Amarillo, Texas.
Forty-one positions at BPI's headquarters in Dakota Dunes and 45 jobs at the company's machine shop and assembly facility in South Sioux City are affected by Monday's announcement, Corporate Administrator Rich Jochum said. The displaced workers will receive severance, including full pay and benefits for up to 60 days, Jochum said.
More than a quarter of the 152-member staff in the Dunes offices would be affected by the cuts, which touch nearly all corporate functions, from logistics and engineering to accounting and human resources.
Before Monday's announcement, about 400 workers were employed at the sprawling South Sioux City complex. The beef trimmings plant continues to operate, but at significantly reduced hours and output.
BPI blamed the job cuts and closures on its lean beef trimmings being "unfairly vilified" in a series of national media reports in which detractors maligned its product as "pink slime."
A consumer backlash, fueled by social media sites, pressured many U.S. school districts and large supermarket chains to drop LFTB, drying up much of BPI's sales.
"It is a very unfortunate situation that a misleading campaign at the national level is hurting a good, family-owned and family-operated business and costing hardworking Nebraskans their jobs that support their families," Gov. Dave Heineman said in a statement.
Lean Finely Textured Beef, which was found in as much as 70 percent of ground beef at its peak, is made from fatty scraps left over after cattle carcasses are cut into steaks or roasts. The bits of lean meat are heated and separated from the fat with a centrifuge before being treated with small amounts of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill E. coli and other potentially deadly pathogens.
Since the latest controversy erupted in early March, BPI has struggled to restore public confidence in its product, which company co-founder and CEO Eldon Roth said has been "100-percent sale, wholesome and nutritious" for 30 years.
With allies that include food safety experts and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, the company said it has mounted a grassroots, word-of-mouth campaign to share facts about Lean Finely Textured Beef and convince retailers to once again carry the product.
"We're convinced that consumer demand for our high-quality lean beef will return," Eldon Roth said in a statement.
BPI will work with state and local agencies and other employers in Siouxland and the meat industry to help find new jobs for its displaced workers, Jochum said.