Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News, Inc. for defamation over its coverage of a meat product that critics called “pink slime.” Beef Products is claiming the network damaged the company by misleading consumers into believing the meat product was unhealthy and unsafe.
The 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 also names ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer, ABC correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley, the Department of Agriculture microbiologist. Gerald Zirnstien, who coined the term “pink slime,” Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC, are also named in the suit.
BPI alleges that ABC’s reporting “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. Webb said that ABC ignored information that BPI’s method of processing has been used for years and meets federal standards, instead giving the impression “that it’s some type of chemical product … some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers.”
Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food-quality assurance, said the company lost 80 percent of its business in 28 days. BPI has declined to discuss how much it lost in sales, but acknowledged it took a “substantial” hit. Some of the customers have returned, Letch said, but not enough to allow BPI to rehire former employees.