Beef Products Inc. has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News for its coverage of the company's lean finely textured beef, called “pink slime” by critics. BPI is alleging that the network misled consumers to believe the product was unhealthy and unsafe, reports the Associated Press.
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, said Dan Webb, BPI's Chicago-based attorney. The lawsuit filed in a South Dakota state court also accuses ABC News of improper interference with the relationships between BPI and its customers.
"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," Webb said before the company's official announcement.
A statement from ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey W. Schneider said, “The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously.”
The reports cited in the lawsuit include 11 that aired on television and 14 that appeared online in March. Webb said 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. Webb said the network also 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.
Webb said the reports created the false impression "that it's some type of chemical product, that it's not beef. It led people to believe that it's some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers."
"The result of that has been catastrophic for this company," he said.
BPI has previously declined to discuss how much it lost in sales, but acknowledged it took a "substantial" hit.
Source: AP, ABC News