Judge won’t dismiss ‘pink slime’ defamation suit


ELK POINT, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota judge on Thursday
refused to throw out a defamation lawsuit against ABC related to its
coverage of a meat product called lean, finely textured beef, which
critics have dubbed "pink slime."
Beef Products Inc. sued the
television network in 2012 seeking $1.2 billion in damages. Dakota
Dunes-based BPI says ABC’s coverage led to the closure of three plants
and roughly 700 layoffs by misleading consumers into believing the
product is unsafe.
Attorneys for ABC say the network in each of
its broadcasts stated the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed the
product safe to eat. They say BPI might not like the phrase "pink
slime," but like all ground beef, it’s pink and has a slimy texture.
her Thursday ruling, Judge Cheryle Gering dismissed some claims but
allowed most to go forward. Gering ruled that ABC isn’t protected
against liability by saying in its news reports that the product is
beef, is safe and is nutritious.
Jeffrey W. Schneider, senior vice
president of ABC News, noted that the ruling was on a preliminary
motion to dismiss, not on the merits of the case. "We will defend our
reporting vigorously on the merits," Schneider said in a written
Beef Products Inc. attorney Erik Connolly said the company is pleased with the ruling.
"We look forward to starting discovery and ultimately presenting our case to a jury," Connolly
said in a statement.
finely textured beef is made using a process in which trimmings left
after a cow is butchered are heated, lean meat is separated from fat and
ammonia gas is applied to kill bacteria.
Beef Products’ attorneys
argued during a December hearing that ABC’s statements about the FDA
deeming the product safe to eat were coupled with negative context
calling the product filler or "not meat" and implying that the FDA was
not a credible source because the agency overruled scientists in
approving the food product’s use.
They said the network intended
to damage Beef Products’ reputation and destroy its relationship with
its customers, as BPI was the only producer mentioned in ABC’s series of
news reports.
Lawyers for the network said it never quoted
critics saying the product is unsafe. They said the term "pink slime" is
not incorrect and the company doesn’t get to choose ABC’s words.
had wanted the case considered by the U.S. District Court in Sioux
Falls, but federal Judge Karen Schreier in June ordered it back to the
state circuit court in Elk Point.
In addition to ABC, the lawsuit
names ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer; ABC correspondents Jim Avila and
David Kerley; Gerald Zirnstein, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
microbiologist who named the product "pink slime;" former federal food
scientist Carl Custer; and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance
manager who was interviewed by ABC.
An attorney representing
Zirnstein and Custer did not immediately return messages for comment
Thursday night. An attorney for Foshee said he has not had a chance yet
to fully review the decision.
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