Beef Products Inc. is going to court Monday, suing ABC News for report that claimed the company put waste meat products referred to as “pink slime” in processed beef.
Beef Products says ABC caused $1.9 billion in damages with a 2012 report claiming that a filler product found in most ground beef is actually waste beef trimmings known as lean finely textured beef or LFTB, “once used only in dog food and cooking oil.”
The report alleges that Beef Products lobbied the Department of Agriculture heavily to classify LFTB as meat.
If the jury rules in the companies favor, ABC would be responsible for triple the amount of damages, or nearly $6 billion, under South Dakota’s Food Products Disparagement Act, which protects agriculture companies from libel, the Argus Leader reports.
The lawsuit claims ABC’s report unnecessarily targeted the food company for safe and legal food. Beef Products makes LFTB from the trimmings of other beef cuts. The bits of meat are heated slightly to separate the fat from the muscle tissue, then sprayed with ammonium hydroxide, which the Food and Drug Administration says is “generally recognized as safe,” to kill bacteria like E. coli. The product is frozen into pink bricks and shipped to other food companies and stores as a filler to combine with higher-quality ground beef.
The case may be a bellwether for how news organizations could be held responsible for so-called “fake news” reports.
“ABC is in the plaintiff’s home turf at a time of unprecedented hostility toward the press as purveyors of ‘fake news,'” Dave Heller, the deputy director of the Medial Law Resource Center, told the Argus Leader. “On the other hand, you will have a jury of average Americans probably more concerned with what they put on the family dinner table than the public relations of a beef processor.”
“This was the opposite of fake news,” ABC lawyer Kevin Baine said. “It was real news of interest to consumers who didn’t know this product was in their ground beef.”
While ABC’s reporting did not say the product was unsafe to eat, Beef Products claims that the news organization hyped the claim in order to make LFTB sound disgusting.
“There is not a more offensive way of describing a food product than to call it ‘slime,'” a lawyer for Beef Products told the Wall Street Journal. The company claims ABC used the phrase “pink slime” 137 times in TV broadcasts, online reports and on social media.
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