ELK POINT, S.D. – ABC News’ 2012 coverage of a meat filler product referred to as “pink slime” is still haunting it, as it now faces trial in South Dakota over a lawsuit that could cost it almost $6 billion.
Beef Products Inc., the manufacturer of “lean, finely textured beef,” the so-called “pink slime,” sued ABC News and its reporters, including Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila, in September of 2012, six months after the network ran a series of news stories about the meat additive. In its 263-page lawsuit, Beef Products claimed that the news coverage constituted defamation and cost the company over $1.2 billion in sales.
Under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, those damages could be tripled to almost $6 billion if Beef Products wins the case.
Last month, Union County Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering found that the case should proceed to trial, although she dismissed news anchor Dianne Sawyer as a defendant.
“We are pleased that the Court dismissed all claims against Diane Sawyer,” ABC News said in a statement. “The Court has not ruled on the merits of the case against the other defendants, and we welcome the opportunity to defend the ABC News reports at trial and are confident that we will ultimately prevail.”
ABC contends that referring to the additive as “pink slime” is constitutionally protected free speech, and that Beef Products’ lawsuit could have a chilling effect on reporting about the food industry.
Many major grocery stores and fast food chains – including Walmart and McDonald’s – stopped carrying meat that contained the textured beef additive after ABC aired its story. Beef Products had to close three plants, even though it insists that the product is safe and has been on the market without causing illness for 20 years.
The USDA has also deemed the product, which is made of beef trimmings treated with ammonia to kill bacteria, safe. However, Canada and the European Union have banned it for human consumption, primarily due to the presence of ammonia.
The trial is set to begin in Elk Point, South Dakota, on June 5 and may run for up to eight weeks.