One meat company ravaged by an ABC News report earlier this year is fighting back.
Beef Products Inc. filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday (Sept. 13) against ABC News seeking $1.2 billion in damages for misleading consumers about lean finely textured beef, dubbed “pink slime” by the media.
In a news conference today, BPI attorney Dan Webb said the suit revolved around “false and misleading and defamatory” statements about the product officially known as lean, finely textured beef.
The lawsuit filed in a South Dakota state court names several individuals as defendants, including ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and the Departure of Agriculture microbiologist who coined the term “pink slime.”
In a statement posted on the ABC News website, senior vice president Jeffrey W. Schneider said, "The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously.”
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.
The American Meat Institute, an industry trade group released the following statement supporting BPI in their efforts to seek justice: “We continue to stand by the safety and nutrition of lean finely textured beef and believe it has been unfairly criticized,” said AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. “ BPI is exercising its right to seek recourse from ABC for the unprecedented and, in our view, unbalanced coverage, of this safe and nutritious beef product. We will await the court’s review of all the facts in this case.”
The ABC News reports cited in the lawsuit include nearly a dozen spots that aired on television as well as 14 stories that appeared online between March 7 and April 3.
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.
BPI was not the only business affected by the reporting as the beef processor had an extensive network of suppliers and buyers of its products which with excess product once retailers where pressured to pull it from the shelves.
Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc. was one of many beef processors that sold beef trimmings to BPI.
"We’re still reviewing the lawsuit, but like many others in the food business, we were very disappointed by how Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) was portrayed by the media. It is 100% pure, safe and healthy beef. We don’t make LFTB, but we do buy it from others to use in some of our ground beef. We hope that as more people understand the facts, the use of this wholesome product will rebound and be available for the public," said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson.
He added that U.S. consumers lost an estimated 2% of the available U.S. beef supply due to the drop in LFTB sales and production, and this ultimately increased the price of ground beef.
Webb said ABC News 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.
BPI attributes the news report to an 80% loss in business within the first month of the initial airing. While some customers have returned to BPI, the company said business is not enough to support rehiring former employees.