ABC Wants Dismissal of $1.2 Billion ‘Slime’ Suit

In circuit court, ABC requests dismissal while BPI says news network caused ‘consumer backlash’ and damaged their company.

A South Dakota circuit court judge heard arguments on Dec. 17 from both sides in the lawsuit by Beef Products Inc. (BPI) against ABC News over its coverage of lean finely textured beef in 2012.

Reuters reported that ABC’s lawyers asked for the $1.2 billion defamation suit to be dismissed “as the news outlet stood by its reports and cited free speech protections.” BPI, a South Dakota-based company, sued ABC after the news network aired a series of reports labeling its product “pink slime.” ABC used the term 137 times in four weeks, Reuters noted.

According to Reuters Judge Cheryle Gering will provide a written ruling but did not say when.

BPI’s product, lean finely textured beef, was USDA-approved and had been eaten for years. But that didn’t stop ABC and reporter Jim Avila from scaring people about it. In 10 stories in about two weeks, ABC had demonized the meat so much that Safeway, SUPERVALU, Food Lion, Kroger and Stop & Shop stopped carrying it.

On March 22, ABC took a victory lap in its report. In it, Avila and Sawyer continued to call the meat “pink slime,” and Sawyer said, “Jim’s story prompted a public outcry.”

BPI said the reaction to the series of reports cost the company $400 million, resulted in three plant closures and 650 layoffs. “Actual damages could be tripled to more than $1.2 billion if ABC News were found liable under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act,” Reuters said.

American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle put the blame directly on ABC’s biased coverage.Congratulations, ‘ABC World News.’ Your relentless coverage and uninformed criticism of a safe and wholesome beef product has now delivered a hook for yet another nightly news broadcast,” he wrote.

BPI’s 263-page complaint against ABC said that “There is not a more offensive way of describing a food product that to call it ‘slime,’ which is a noxious, repulsive and filthy fluid not safe for human consumption.”

In September 2012, well-known journalist and legal writer Steven Brill, analyzed the case for Reuters and was highly critical of ABC’s attack on the beef industry. He said “as an aficionado of these cases, I can report that this is the most detailed, persuasive complaint of its kind I have ever read.”

— Julia A. Seymour is Assistant Managing Editor for MRC Business at the Media Research Center. Follow Julia A. Seymour on Twitter.