No Joy in Mudville

There are a lot of long faces in Garden City, Kan., tonight as well as Amarillo, Texas, and Waterloo, Iowa, where 700 Beef Products Inc., (BPI) employees were given their pink slips. Potentially 3,000 more employees of suppliers and other providers associated with the company may be on the chopping block, as well.

To them, the word pink has a special meaning. After ABC News used the term “pink slime” 52 times in a two-week span “reporting” about the lean, finely textured beef BPI produced, stores started pulling the product. As of March 26, Rich Jochum, BPI corporate administrator, announced they were closing the Holcomb, Amarillo and Waterloo plants. Jochum told the press that company officials hope the closings are temporary; however, employees were informed that the closing would be permanent to be in compliance with government regulations. The plant in Dakota Dunes, S.D., will continue operations. Terminated employees will receive full salary and benefits for the next two months.

BPI, a family owned company, was started in 1971 when Eldon Roth invented a new meat freezing process that shortened freezing times from three to five days, to two minutes. The first BPI plant was built in Amarillo in 1981, followed by the Garden City plant in 1988. By 1991 the company had perfected their lean beef product, which has become a key ingredient in low fat or lean ground beef.

BPI has been at the forefront of food safety innovations, having received the International Association for Food Protection’s highest honor, the Black Pearl Award, five years ago. Eldon and Regina Roth, together with their children, Jennifer and Nick, head up the team at BPI.

Fast forward to name calling and 24 hour attacks and you have today’s news. The product is healthy, safe and the one we have been eating for years, but that wasn’t the point when there was a chance to “slime” a company and an industry for ratings. Network executives and commentators must be very proud of themselves.

Unintended consequences will be very swift. Hamburger prices will have to rise as will the costs of school lunch programs. Those lean beef products may well be a thing of the past, or too expensive to consider. Add to that those 700 families suddenly facing an uncertain future.

Wow. Here we have the perfect storm – higher food prices and more unemployment – all in the name of news? I certainly hope that BPI and the Roth family have a Plan B.

 – Betty Jo



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