ABC News is accused of making misleading and false statements in a 2012 report series. The U.S.-based news network is currently heading to a trial in South Dakota as Beef Products Inc. has slapped it with a $5.7 billion lawsuit.
In a 2012 news report series, ABC News allegedly characterized the ground beef product of Beef Products as "pink slime" which is a kind of food additive.
Due to this misreporting, the South Dakota-based beef company alleges that it faced a monetary loss of $1.9 billion and was forced to lay off many employees. Beef Products' lawyer stated that the news coverage resulted in a decrease in sales and nearly led to the company shutting down.
Pink Slime: What Is It?
Pink slime is an unflattering term used to refer to low-cost processed beef trimmings, which Beef Products sells. These beef trimmings — also known as LFTB or lean finely-textured beef — were once a popular ingredient in ground beef food items. Burger King and McDonalds' food items at one time included LFTBs.
However, the term "pink slime" was used for the first time by Gerald Zirnstein, a former scientist at the Agriculture Department in the United States. Zirnstein used this term in an email in 2002, expressing his concerns about the niche beef product.
According to Zirnstein, the LFTB was produced by placing the trimmings in centrifuges, which separated the lean meat from fat. The separated lean meat was then treated with ammonia to remove harmful pathogens and make it fit for consumption. Over time, the process was perfected and led to the production of 10 to 20 extra pounds of LFTB per cow.
In 2012, ABC News revealed that ground beef that was sold in U.S. supermarkets had 70 percent of LFTB in it as a filler to reduce the overall fat content. However, this vital information was omitted from the food label.
Beef Product's Lawsuit And ABC's Response
In September 2012, after the coverage, Beef Product sued ABC News, accusing the network of intentionally damaging the brand's reputation and its products, specifically the LFTB. The meat processing company also accused ABC News of implying that the LFTB they were making was not actually beef.
ABC News, on the other hand, stands its ground and maintains that people deserved to know the truth about the kind of food they were consuming.
"We believe in the principle that people deserve to know what's in the food they eat and are confident that when all the facts are presented in court, ABC's reporting will be fully vindicated," the network's attorney Kevin Baine said.
ABC News' Pink Slime Trial
The trial is expected to last for about eight weeks and will mainly concentrate on Beef Products' claims that ABC News launched a "disinformation campaign" against it and carried out the coverage "with reckless disregard" for the true facts.
"We look forward to the opportunity to present our case and establish for the jury that B.P.I. has suffered significant financial harm because of the wrongful conduct by ABC," Dan Webb, a lawyer representing Beef Product said.