Pink Slime Case Against ABC News Finally Goes to Trial

By Chris Ariens 

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More than 5 years after their reports on so-called pink slime, ABC News will have its day in court.

In early 2012, ABC News aired several stories on lean finely-textured beef which critics have called pink slime. In Sept. 2012 Beef Products Inc. filed a 257-page lawsuit citing 11 TV reports and 14 online reports between March 7 and April 3, 2012.

ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer and ABC News correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley were named as defendants as was a former Dept. of Agriculture microbiologist who coined the term “pink slime” in 2002. He was the whistleblower featured in ABC’s reports. A few months ago Sawyer and Kerley were dropped from the suit, but Avila remains a defendant.

BPI is seeking $1.9 billion in damages for roughly 200 “false and misleading and defamatory” statements about the product. A few months after BPI filed its suit a worker who was among 750 people laid off from the meat processor also sued ABC News.

THR’s Eriq Gardner is covering the trial in South Dakota and reports that damages could be significant:

BPI is claiming actual damages as high as $1.9 billion, and under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, there’s the possibility of trebled statutory damages, bringing the potential verdict to $5.7 billion (which doesn’t even include the possibility of punitive damages). It’s a sum so great that The Walt Disney Co., parent of ABC, has included this lawsuit — and no other lawsuit — in 10-Q reports to shareholders filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission. That means Disney sees the outcome as potentially “material” to its bottom line.

“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,” said Kevin Baine, counsel for ABC and Jim Avila, in a statement.

ABC News was not the first to report on LFTB, in fact the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting in 2009.