BPI to reopen Kansas plant as lean beef sales tick up

2014-08-13T08:00:00Z 2014-10-22T22:41:50Z BPI to reopen Kansas plant as lean beef sales tick upDAVE DREESZEN ddreeszen@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal

DAKOTA DUNES | With demand for its lean beef continuing to rebound, Beef Products Inc. will reopen its Garden City, Kan., plant next week.

The complex in southwest Kansas was one of three plants the Dakota Dunes-based firm shuttered in May 2012 following a national media-driven controversy over its Lean Finely Textured Beef, or LFTB, which critics deride as "pink slime."

BPI said it anticipates hiring 40 to 45 employees at Garden City to collect fresh beef trimmings, starting on Monday. The collections will support increased production at BPI's South Sioux City plant, which will remain the company's only LFTB manufacturing site.

"BPI continues to experience growth and remains confident this growth will continue," Craig Letch, BPI's director of food quality and food safety said in a statement. "Although business conditions are not yet at the point where we can resume lean beef production operations in Garden City, this is certainly a step in the right direction."

There are no current plans to add jobs in South Sioux City, which now  employs 350 to 400 employees, said BPI spokesman Jeremy Jacobsen.

BPI closed plants in Garden City, Waterloo, Iowa, and Amarillo, Texas, after losing more than $400 million in business in the aftermath of a series of news reports and social media postings that cast LFTB in a negative light.

BPI is suing ABC News for $1.2 billion in damages, claiming the network's coverage of the issue in March 2012 defamed LFTB, causing consumers to mistakenly believe the product was unsafe and unwholesome. The consumer backlash, the company contends, caused supermarkets, food suppliers and other customers to cancel orders, leading to the dwindling sales, lost jobs and plant closures.

Attorneys for BPI and the network have proposed a February 2017 trial date for the civil case in Union County Circuit Court in Elk Point, S.D.

As the controversy has died down and consumer prices for ground beef have risen, BPI officials said they have seen an uptick in demand for its lean trimmings, which are typically mixed with fattier ground beef to create a product up to 95 percent lean.

“As the global demand for quality lean beef continues to rise, BPI is ready to meet that demand by providing consumers high quality, wholesome, safe and nutritious lean beef, just as we have done for decades,” Letch said in the statement.

At the time of its closure, the Garden City plant employed 236 workers. Starting next week, the facility will operate two shifts of fresh beef trimmings collection to run at the same time as production at an adjacent Tyson Foods beef slaughter plant. BPI also will have a third shift for plant cleaning.

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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