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“Pink slime” plants to close

The top U.S. producer of ammonia-treated beef that critics called “pink slime” said May 7 it will close three of its four plants after sales dropped and did not recover following recent attacks on the product.

Beef Products Inc. (BPI) will close plants on May 25 in Amarillo, Texas; Garden City, Kansas; and Waterloo, Iowa, costing 650 people their jobs. Its South Sioux City, Nebraska plant will continue to operate at a reduced capacity.

“While we had hoped to be able to resume operation at those plants, that is not going to be possible in the immediate future and the temporary suspension of operations will in fact result in the elimination of those jobs effective May 25, 2012,” the company said in a statement.

In March, public outcry erupted over the filler for ground beef, which is made from fatty trimmings that are more susceptible to contamination than other cuts of beef. The trimmings are therefore sprayed with ammonia — more often associated with cleaning products — to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli.

Sales dropped when consumers became aware of the common practice in the industry, despite government and industry assurances the beef was safe to eat.

In late March, BPI suspended production at the three plants for 60 days. At that time, BPI spokesman Rich Jochum had said the closure could become permanent.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad on Monday called the closings a “sad day for the state of Iowa.

“The fact that a false, misleading smear campaign can destroy a company’s reputation overnight should disturb us all,” Branstad said in a statement.

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