Beef Products Incorporated has suspended operations at three of their four plants where they manufacture what’s known as “lean finely textured beef.” Company co-owner, Regina Roth, said BPI is continuing operations at its South Sioux City plant but suspending operations completely at Waterloo, and plants in Amarillo, Texas and Garden City, Kansas.

“Operations at our South Sioux location are significantly reduced, but we are trying to keep that facility open,” Roth said. The South Sioux City  plant is operating with reduced shifts and 32 to 36 hour work weeks.

Roth said the plant suspensions come amid a public outcry over concerns about the use of ammonia in processing the textured beef product. She said the process has been safely used for at least 20 years, but recently became a target of activists seeking to have it banned from supermarkets and school lunches.

“None of this, and I stress this, is a result of unsound, poor business practices or unsafe, unhealthy food,” Roth said. “Our customers are quite distressed at this situation and are looking for ways to counter these lies and misrepresentations.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow school districts to stop using the product. Some retail grocery chains have pulled products containing it.

The South Sioux plant is the largest BPI facility, employing around 450 people, and there are around 250 employees at each of the others plants. Roth said the plant shutdowns will go well beyond the impact on BPI employees.

“But you also have to understand now that all the truckers, and all the vendors, and all the people that give us boxes and chemicals — those people are all going to be affected too,” Roth explained. Roth said employees at the suspended plants will continue to be paid for the next 60 days.

By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City