ABC News asks “pink slime” suit be moved to federal court


ABC NewsABC News is looking to move a meat processor’s defamation lawsuit over reports about lean finely textured beef (“pink slime,” as it has been labeled by critics) to federal court. Lawyers for the network filed to transfer the case, brought last month by Beef Products Inc, the leading producer of the product, from of a state court in South Dakota and to a federal court in that state, said Reuters.

The $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit accuses ABC of misleading viewers into believing the product was unsafe.

Beef Products said it is also seeking $400 million of compensatory damages representing lost profit, which could be tripled under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, plus punitive damages.

“Lean finely textured beef” is a filler made from fatty trimmings that are sprayed with ammonia to kill bacteria. The Department of Agriculture approved use of the product in ground beef in 1993 and affirmed its safety in March.

The suit claims ABC falsely told viewers that its beef product was not safe, not healthy and not even meat, resulting in the 31-year-old company’s loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in profit and roughly half its employees.

BPI is seeking $400 million in compensatory damages for lost profit it says was caused by ABC’s reports. The damages could be tripled under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act. The company is also seeking punitive damages.

ABC said previously the suit was without merit. In addition to suing ABC News, South Dakota-based BPI has also sued ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer and two reporters who covered the story, Jim Avila and David Kerley.

Other defendants include Gerald Zirnstein, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist credited with coining the term “pink slime” in a 2002 email to colleagues later obtained by The New York Times.

In its court papers on Wednesday, ABC filed a removal notice to shift the case from Union County Circuit Court in South Dakota to the federal district court for the District of South Dakota, Southern Division. Typically, if a party to litigation is successful in such a transfer, a case would proceed in the federal court system under federal procedural rules. If the case were to go to trial, a federal judge and jury would hear it.

See the Reuters story here

RBR-TVBR observation: We’re not taking sides here, but if specialists tell a news organization that ammonia-sprayed meat is unhealthy to consume, one would tend to believe it. You can almost smell the ammonia when cooking ground beef, typically. BPI thinks ABC took the story too far, beyond the confines of reporting a story. That will be tough to prove in court.