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Beef Products Inc files defamation lawsuit v ABC News over 'pink slime' reports: 'Our world was turned upside down'

By Elaine WATSON , 13-Sep-2012
Last updated the 13-Sep-2012 at 19:56 GMT

Lean finely textured beef maker (LFTB) Beef Products Inc. has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News alleging its “false and disparaging" news reports about ‘pink slime’ defamed its products and proved “catastrophic” to its business.

The South Dakota-based meat processor is seeking $1.2bn in damages over ABC News’ allegedly "false and misleading and defamatory" statements about lean, finely textured beef, which it claims destroyed BPI’s reputation.

The statements were made after BPI and others sent the network data from “USDA, FDA, food safety organizations and numerous beef industry experts that LFTB is a safe, nutritious lean beef”, said BPI.

“As a result of the disinformation campaign, BPI sales declined from approximately five million pounds of LFTB per week to less than two million pounds per week, three BPI facilities closed and more than 700 employees lost their jobs.”

Reports led people to believe LFTB is some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance  

In the complaint, filed in a South Dakota state court today against the American Broadcast Companies Inc, ABC News Inc, and three ABC News reporters, BPI also accuses the defendants of improper interference with the relationships between BPI and its customers, noting that the network had published a list of retail chains that had stopped selling its product, which had in turn pressured others to stop buying it.

The news reports cited in the lawsuit had created the false impression that LFTB is "some type of chemical product, that it's not beef”, said Craig Letch, director of food safety and quality assurance, in a press conference this morning.

“[They] led people to believe that it's some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers."

Defendants knowingly misled the public

In the complaint, the plaintiffs add: "On March 7, 2012, the Roth family’s [BPI's founders] life’s work, BPI’s future, and the future of BPI’s employees were turned upside down. On that day, ABC News, one of the most powerful news outlets in the world, began a disinformation campaign against BPI and LFTB.

"Through a series of factual misstatements, repeated continuously during the campaign, Defendants knowingly misled the public into believing that LFTB was not beef at all, but rather was an unhealthy "pink slime" "hidden" in ground beef as part of an "economic fraud" masterminded by BPI."

What is LFTB?

LFTB is added to some beef burgers and other ground beef products to increase the percentage of lean beef, say producers.

ABC News’ coverage suggested that the product was unsafe and unhealthy, said BPI, when it is in fact simply lean beef that has been separated from fat, bone and connective tissue and then treated with ammonia to kill pathogens in an USDA-approved process.

The phrase ‘pink slime’ - allegedly coined by an USDA microbiologist - began to spread in 2009 and then gained momentum after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver began using it in 2011.

Blatantly false and disparaging statements

Eldon Roth, founder and CEO of BPI, said: “We’ve created thousands of good jobs for Americans and our lean finely textured beef has made the leaner ground beef that consumers desire more affordable.

“The blatantly false and disparaging statements made about our lean beef have done more than hurt my family and our companies; they have jeopardized the future of our employees and their families.”

In a web page dedicated to tackling myths about the product, fellow producer Cargill says: “It’s not scraps from the floor. It’s not cartilage, tendons or other parts of the animal. It’s not dog food. It’s not filler. It’s meat.”

While labeling LFTB is not mandatory because it is just beef, several voluntary label options are under discussion including one that states ‘includes finely textured beef’.

ABC News, which owned by Walt Disney, said it would vigorously contest the lawsuit, which was “without merit”.

More to follow…

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