Just yesterday, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), along with Technology, Inc. and Freezing Machines, Inc., collectively filed suit against ABC in Circuit Court in Union County, South Dakota claiming that ABC’s news coverage of lean finely textured beef (LFTB), or what became infamously known by the nickname “pink slime,” was defamatory and ultimately devastating for the company’s reputation and business.
LFTB is known in the meat industry as beef that has undergone a mechanical process to separate the fat from the meat in beef trimmings. The resulting product is then exposed to ammonia or citric acid in order to kill bacteria. The ABC investigation of LFTB that began earlier this year brought widespread attention to the product and the process by which it is produced.
The 256-page complaint filed by BPI specifically alleges that on March 7, 2012, ABC began a month long campaign during which the news agency knowingly and intentionally published false and disparaging statements regarding BPI and its LFTB product and improperly interfered with BPI’s business relationships. BPI argues that the statements made by ABC were not only inconsistent with information provided to them by BPI but were also contradictory to the findings of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the Food and Drug Administration, food safety organizations, and many beef industry experts.
The company asserts that ABC’s reports caused grocery stores to stop selling products that contained the LFTB and misled consumers to believe that LFTB was unwholesome and unsafe. BPI is now seeking compensatory and statutory damages of more than $1 billion as well as punitive damages for what BPI alleges was ABC’s reckless disregard for the truth.
The complaint points out that prior to ABC’s broadcasts and online reports on LFTB, BPI was selling approximately five million pounds of LFTB per week. Afterwards, the company’s sales took a significant plunge declining to less than two million pounds per week. As we previously reported in an earlier blog post here, the drop in sales forced BPI to file for bankruptcy, close three processing facilities, and let go about 700 employees.