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ABC News sued for defamation over “pink slime” reports

Beef Products Inc. says that it lost millions of dollars after the news network reported that its beef was unsafe

Earlier this year, ABC News turned the country’s collective stomach with a series of reports on the meat product dubbed “pink slime.” Now the news network is facing an unappetizing defamation lawsuit, courtesy of an angry South Dakota beef processor.

In court papers filed Thursday, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) accused ABC of falsely reporting that its product was unsafe, unhealthy and “more like gelatin than meat.”

 “Pink slime,” also known as “lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB), is made from meat scraps that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria. Meat producers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintain that the product is safe to consume. But ABC News set off a media firestorm earlier this year when it reported that 70 percent of supermarket ground beef contains LFTB filler, even though the USDA does not require food labels to reflect this fact.

In the wake of the reports, schools, supermarkets and major restaurant chains—including McDonald’s Corp., Safeway Inc. and Taco Bell—announced they would no longer use ground beef containing LFTB.

According to BPI, the uproar cost the company millions of dollars in revenue, forced it to shut down three of its four plants and led to the firing of 700 workers. “To call a food product slime is the most pejorative term that could be imagined,” the company’s lawyer, Daniel Webb, said at a press briefing. “ABC’s constant repetition of it, night after night after night, had a huge impact on the consuming public.”

The suit accuses ABC of acting with “malice,” but proving that in court may be tricky. To win its case, BPI will have to show that the news network knowingly broadcast false information intending to do harm to the meat processor.

Other defendants in the suit include ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, reporters Jim Avila and David Kerley, and Gerald Zirnstein, a former USDA microbiologist who coined the term “pink slime” in a 2002 email. BPI is seeking at least $400 million in compensatory damages—which could be tripled under South Dakota state law—in addition to punitive damages.

Read more on the story at Reuters.

And for more InsideCounsel coverage of “pink slime” and other food controversies see:

“Pink slime” controversy continues to rage

AFA Foods files for bankruptcy over “pink slime” controversy

New York mayor moves to ban sugary drinks, California cracks down on foie gras

Cleveland judge strikes down law banning trans fats

Nutella settlement is sweet for plaintiffs’ attorneys

FDA scales back use of antibiotics in livestock

Alanna Byrne

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