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Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota beef producer that produces what the industry calls “lean, finely textured beef” — a substance the rest of the world has taken to calling “pink slime” — filed a $1.2 billion (yes, that’s with a “B”) lawsuit against ABC News for “roughly 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements. Pink slime is a product that’s made from beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide and that is commonly found in pre-made burgers. “The lawsuit is without merit,” said ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider in a statement. “We will contest it vigorously.”
Dan Webb, a lawyer representing BPI, argued ABC defamed the beef byproduct by simply referring to it as “pink slime” on the air. By that reasoning, virtually every other major news outlet in the country should also be implicated. But BPI is going after BPI because the network, which is owned by Disney, attacked pink slime “night after night,” according to the lawsuit. The network “engaged in a monthlong vicious, concerted disinformation campaign against BPI,” the company claims.
Webb told the Wall Street Journal BPI believes that ABC News is guilty of giving consumers the impression that the beef product “is some type of unhealthy and repulsive liquid product that is not even meat.” And indeed, the reporting by ABC and others did have an effect. By early February, McDonald’s and other fast food chains quietly announced that they would stop selling “pink slime” beef. According to the AP, the bad publicity forced BPI to close three of its four US plants and lay off 700 workers. In March, BPI took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal in an effort to fight the “mis-information campaign.”
South Dakota University law professor Patrick Garry predicts that BPI will have a tough time winning the case, though, as there is no precedent for such a ruling. The agriculture-libel statute would require BPI to prove that ABC knowingly reported false information in an effort to harm the company, and there isn’t any evidence of that.