Maybe “slime” isn’t the most appetizing way to describe a food product, but it’s certainly easier to stomach than a potential $1.2 billion lawsuit. ABC News may soon be eating both its words and that price tag though, as a South Dakota based judge has rebuffed the broadcaster’s attempts to toss out a defamation lawsuit brought as a result of remarks it made about extruded meat products.
During a series of reports by ABC News in the spring of 2012, the signature product of Beef Products Inc. was repeatedly referred to as “pink slime.” According to BPI, the product, which is frequently used in fast food restaurants, is a finely ground and textured beef product. The company claims that repeated use of the term “pink slime” hurt its reputation by mischaracterizing an important offering as inedible.
The Department of Agriculture ruled that the product was safe for consumption, however many large retailers, including Wal-Mart, stopped selling items like hamburger patties that contained the product in the wake of the ABC reports.
While the judge has yet to determine whether defamation occurred, he has decided to allow a majority of the claims against ABC News to proceed. Previously ABC tried to get the suit into federal court, versus more meat-industry friendly South Dakota.
"The entirety of the broadcasts can be reasonably interpreted as insinuating that plaintiffs are improperly selling a product that is not nutritious and/or not safe for the public's consumption," the judge wrote. "For example, the use of the term 'pink slime' with a food product can be reasonably interpreted as implying that the food product is not meat and is not fit to eat, which are objective facts which can be proven."
"This was a ruling on a preliminary motion to dismiss, not a ruling on the merits. We will defend our reporting vigorously on the merits," says Jeffrey W Schneider, senior vice president, ABC News.
BPI is seeking $400 million in projected profit lose, with the remainder coming from South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.
The news comes as multiple “ag-gag” laws seek to make it illegal to report on corruption and conditions within the meat industry.
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