Beef Products Inc. (BPI) has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News for its coverage of a meat product that critics have dubbed “pink slime.” It was alleged in the suit that the network misled consumers causing them to believe the product to be unhealthy and unsafe. The Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based meat processor is seeking $1.2 billion in damages for roughly 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements about the product officially known as lean, finely textured beef. The lawsuit filed in a South Dakota state court also accuses ABC News of improper interference with the relationships between BPI and its customers. Dan Webb, BPI’s Chicago-based attorney, stated:
It caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all – that it’s an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat.
The reports cited in the lawsuit include 11 that aired on television and 14 that appeared online in March. According to BPI, the reports had “an enormous impact” on the company, forcing it to close three of its four U.S. plants and lay off more than 650 workers. The network allegedly published a list of chain grocery stores that had stopped selling the product, and that this pressured others to end their business relationship with BPI. Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food-quality assurance, said the company lost 80 percent of its business in 28 days. Some of the customers have returned, he said, but BPI still doesn’t have the customer base that would allow it to rehire former employees.
The phrase “pink slime” began to spread after it was cited in a 2009 article by The New York Times on the safety of meat processing methods. Soon afterward, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver began to speak out against it. McDonald’s and other fast food companies stopped using it, and major supermarket chains including Kroger and Stop & Shop said they would stop selling beef with the low-cost product.
The company has won support from the governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas and South Dakota. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has also defended the product, saying the federal government wouldn’t allow the product if it was unsafe. The company has launched its own public relations offensive, including a website – www.beefisbeef.com – to advocate for the product. ABC News, owned by The Walt Disney Co., denied BPI’s claims.
Source: Claims Journal
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