DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. – The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) will reclassify Beef Product Inc.’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) as ground beef following an extensive review of the company’s production processes. Since 1994 USDA has recognized LFTB as a qualified component of ground beef.

In September of 2012, BPI sued ABC News over the network’s coverage of LFTB. Attorneys for Eldon and Regina Roth, owners of BPI, claimed that ABC News defamed the company’s product in news reports and social media posts. As a result of the reports BPI’s business suffered financially, and it was forced to close three processing plants in three states. The company sought more than $1 billion in damages for defamation, product and food disparagement and tortious interference with business relationships. But on June 28, 2017, BPI and ABC News agreed to settle the case. Details of the settlement amount were not disclosed.

While discussing the reclassification, Nick Roth, director of engineering at BPI, said “That’s a point in our history, but that’s far from what our company’s story really is.”

USDA’s decision to reclassify LFTB as ground beef opens a significant and positive chapter in the story of BPI which had been caught in a five-year legal battle with ABC News over coverage of the company’s beef products. That was then; this is now and executives with BPI say the company has significantly advanced its processes to make value-added ground beef which resulted in an even better product, according to the company. Earlier this year BPI aksed USDA to conduct a thorough review of the product and its labeling.

“We requested USDA, over six months ago, to reexamine our lean beef that we produce and look at it from its classification,” Roth said. “After a long examination, they’ve approved our use of ground beef directly as a label on our beef that we produce.”

“We submitted all sorts of consumer panels and taste panels,” he continued. “Ground beef has very specific nutritional requirements, and we had to thoroughly test that and demonstrate that we’re meeting [the requirements]. They came out and did an extensive review of the plant in person. We had a lot of their scientists come in and see the process first-hand.”

BPI says its process for harvesting ground beef reduces the number of cattle required to be slaughtered annually to meet global demand. The company’s process is proprietary; equipment is developed and built in-house. But the evolution of the company’s production methods has significantly improved the taste, safety and yield of ground beef. Roth said “…it’s a first step in what should ultimately be a revolutionary process for ground beef production. The method that we use, it really is arguably the most sustainable method that there is.”

The company’s products will be classified as ground beef, but BPI’s business model won’t change. However, Roth said the company now has an opportunity to develop new products that don’t necessarily compete with BPI’s customers.

“We can hit on a lot of the convenience and quality points that consumers are looking for,” he said. “We would like to look at new and innovative products that we can bring to the market or even new markets.”

Craig Letch, director of sales and marketing, said the company now has flexibility to develop product innovations.

“One part of the USDA [review] process involved taste panels where we blended an 80-percent lean ground beef patty and provided taste panels against commercially available patties in the marketplace; and it performed very well,” Letch explained. “That was part of the determination. Whether we intend to change our business model, that’s not necessarily where we are today. But we’re always looking for options, and what can we do to continue to drive value. That’s at the core of what we’re about — providing value.”