Settlement Reached in 'Pink Slime' Defamation Suit

Marco Green
June 28, 2017

ABC News has settled a defamation lawsuit filed by the maker of a processed-meat product that critics dubbed "pink slime", bringing to a close a high-profile legal test of so-called food-libel laws meant to shield the food-production industry from bogus food-safety scares.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend says the network throughout the case has maintained its reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about the product.

Following the ABC News reports, the food company, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., said it had to close three of its four plants and cut more than 650 jobs since controversy erupted over its product.

The terms of the settlement announced Wednesday are confidential.

Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News, anchor Diane Sawyer and reporter Jim Avila in 2012 for $1.9 billion, over a. BPI and its family owners say that the lawsuit was hard, but necessary to start rectifying the harm suffered as a result of ABC's reports on their product, which critics dubbed "pink slime".

After the reports aired, some grocery store chains said they would stop carrying ground beef that contained the product.

BPI had claimed up to $1.9 billion (1.48 billion pounds) in damages, which could have been tripled to $5.7 billion (4.45 billion pounds) under South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.

BPI's signature product, commonly mixed into ground beef, is made from beef chunks, including trimmings, and exposed to bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other contaminants. However, even with assurances that the ingredient, which is made from the trimmings of a cow and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria, wasn't risky, the phrase "pink slime" allegedly turned off customers. Former Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein named the product "pink slime" in a 2002 agency email.

The actual damages BPI was seeking could have been as high as $1.9 billion, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Disney, which owns ABC. Webb said he believes the plaintiff's evidence was well-received by the jury, and that the trial "vindicated" the lean, finely textured beef product. South Dakota law allows for payouts to be tripled in civil suits involving the spreading of false information about food products, meaning the total hit could have reached nearly $6 billion.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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