Empirical Foods Building New Kansas Facility

Empirical Foods Building New Kansas Facility

A beef company that fought for years to clear its name in court has broken ground on a state-of-the-art ground beef production facility in Garden City, Kan.

The empirical family of companies says the new operation will supplement its existing production at its South Sioux City, Neb., location and represents an investment of $250 million.

Formerly Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the company changed its name to empirical in 2019. That was after BPI settled a landmark defamation suit with the Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC News, in June of 2017 for $1.9 billion.

The lawsuit was the culmination of a five-year battle by BPI after an ABC News report on ground beef. In 2012, ABC Correspondent Jim Avila reported on BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) product processed from the trimmings from cattle carcasses.

“Seventy percent of the ground beef we buy at the supermarket contains something he calls pink slime,” Avila said in a clip from the original reporting – using the name for the substance that former USDA scientist microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein had given it: “pink slime.”

While ABC News noted in its stories that the addition of “pink slime” was common and not unsafe to eat, the sudden public awareness and the unappetizing name drove BPI to close three plants and cost 700 hundred workers their jobs.

Following the ABC News reports, fast-food chains severed ties with the company, and hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions to keep “pink slime” out of school lunches.

In a dramatic turnaround, the empirical company – still under the same family ownership – is now thriving again.

“The increased demand for empirical’s lean ground beef requires us to significantly increase our processing capacity to meet the growing needs of our customers,” Craig Letch, president of empirical foods, said in a press release. “This presents a tremendous growth opportunity for empirical and we are excited about what it means for the future of our company and the communities where we live and work.”

The facility is expected to be operational in 2023 and will increase empirical’s current ground beef capacity by 50%, and will employ 250 workers in the Garden City region. A phase two expansion would double production as demand allows.

To ensure a strong pipeline of qualified staff able to operate empirical’s advanced machinery, empirical is committing to an investment of up to $300,000 in a new industrial maintenance program that will be established at Garden City Community College to train the next generation of facility operators and leaders.

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