ABC News has asked a federal court to throw out claims that it defamed Beef Products Inc. through a series of news reports about the processor’s lean finely textured beef products – dubbed “pink slime” by critics.

Reuters reports that in court papers, lawyers for the U.S. network said a September lawsuit by BPI seeks to inhibit free speech. They said the lawsuit poses a challenge to the right of a news organization "to explore matters of obvious public interest -- what is in the food we eat and how that food is labeled."

BPI is seeking $400 million in compensatory damages for lost profit it says was caused by the network’s reports. The damages potentially could be tripled under a South Dakota law on disparagement of agricultural products. The company also is seeking punitive damages.

After a consumer outcry over the fact that LFTB was in ground beef sold to the Federal School Lunch Program, ABC ran numerous reports on the product, calling out retailers that carried the product and referring repeatedly to the product as pink slime, a term coined by a former USDA microbiologist (who is also named in the lawsuit).

ABC defended its use of that term in its reports.

"Pink slime is exactly the sort of 'loose, figurative, or hyperbolic language' that courts recognize demands protection under the First Amendment," the network's lawyers, from law firm Williams & Connolly, wrote in the court filing.

ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co, filed its motion to dismiss in federal court in South Dakota.

A lawyer for BPI, Erik Connolly of the law firm Winston & Strawn, said the plaintiffs would oppose the dismissal motion.

"We believe the complaint sets forth valid claims," he said in an email.

The case is Beef Products Inc et al v. American Broadcasting Cos et al, U.S. District Court, District of South Dakota, No. 12-4183.

Source: Reuters