BPI spends year fighting fallout from "misinformation" about LFTB
DAKOTA DUNES, SD (KTIV) -
One year ago folks across this country were focused on ground beef. What's in it and why it's in there.
Specifically, LFTB or Lean Finely Textured Beef, the main product made by Dakota Dunes, South Dakota based Beef Products Incorporated.
BPI said "misinformation" caused some restaurants and stores to stop selling ground beef made with it.
That's despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture's repeated statements calling LFTB "safe and nutritious".
While most hadn't heard of LFTB until a year ago, the fallout will be felt for years to come.
For months a picture of a fluffy, pink substance circulated through social media and the internet, falsely claiming it was LFTB and being put into the ground beef we eat.
Critics dubbed it "pink slime." Restaurants stopped serving and stores stopped selling meat with LFTB.
On March 26th, 2012, Beef Products Incorporated fought back.
"We understand consumers are concerned. If I heard only what they're hearing and I didn't know any better I'd be concerned too." said BPI Co-founder Regina Roth at a press conference at the company's Dakota Dunes headquarters.
But weeks of being battered through social media and even some national media outlets had already taken a toll.
"They never have seen the facility. They've never seen our product, but they decided to tag us "pink slime" and you know how social media is, it has spread like crazy," said Roth.
Regina Roth announced the company was forced to suspend operations at three BPI plants in Iowa, Kansas and Texas. It was also cutting back operations at the plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska.
Craig Letch said, "What we produce is 100% Beef."
Three days later, Governors and Lieutenant Governors from five states rallied behind the company. They came to the South Sioux plant to learn the facts about Lean Finely Textured Beef.
BPI's Food Safety Director Craig Letch said, "What we're looking at here is lean beef that was just up to and against a roast or a steak."
Letch showed the beef trimmings used to make its product and how it becomes LFTB which is up to 97 percent lean. As our cameras tagged along for the tour, we saw beef trimmings from the Tyson Fresh Meats plant. We were shown where the meat is ground and the fat separated.
Letch explained that a centrifuge basically spins the excess fat out of it. An elaborate piping system delivers what the company calls a "puff" of ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. It is then immediately frozen on a large, press roller.
"Ammonium Hydroxide has been used in food processing since 1974. It is FDA approved, USDA approved, and is in hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of food products across the country," said Craig Letch.
We were shown the final product, beef which is slightly darker in color without the fat. It's what processors put back into their ground beef to make it leaner.
Armed with information, state leaders then hosted a press conference touting BPI's safety record. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad called the attacks against BPI a "smear campaign."
Signs of support along the route the Governors took gave birth to a new slogan. "Dude, it's beef," said Nebraska Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy.
In the days that followed, community rallies like one in Sioux City showed support for BPI and its workers.
"We need a lot of supporters to get this bad name off our back here," said an employee at BPI, Dusty Debuhr.
The community support wasn't enough to prevent the loss of jobs though. More than 700 people at the four plants and corporate headquarters in Dakota Dunes had lost their jobs. BPI says the controversy cost them 80% of their LFTB sales and 400-million dollars in profit.
BPI is suing ABC News for $1.2 billion in damages. It claims the network made roughly 200 "false," "misleading" and "defamatory" statements about its product.
ABC News issued a statement saying the lawsuit is "without merit" and claims it wasn't the first to use the term "pink slime".
Bruce Smith, a BPI employee who lost his job, is also suing ABC News. His lawsuit also names celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and food blogger Bettina Siegel. Smith is seeking $70,000 in damages.