"Pink slime" lawsuit worth $5.7 billion could change journalism

Believed to be the largest civil trial suit in South Dakota's history, BPI is seeking the large sum because of the $700 million in lost profits and $1.2 billion in lost business value the company experienced following the ABC series.

A multibillion-dollar court battle is raging in a small South Dakota town between a former heavyweight meat-producer and one of TV's Big Three networks. Because of the South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, BPI could potentially be awarded $5.7 billion due to statutory damages, on top of additional punitive damages.

"Lean finely textured beef", as it's formally known, is a low-priced filler made from leftover cow trimmings sterilized with ammonia which, according to ABC at the time of their report, was used in "70% of ground beef found in supermarkets". ABC stands by its reporting.

Beef Products Inc.'s defamation lawsuit against television broadcaster ABC started Monday in Dakota Dunes, S.D.

"I'm not an attorney, so I can't judge it from its legal merits, and all the intricacies that it might involve", Justice said, adding later.

She explained how lean finely textured beef is produced from sparse lean beef trimmings.

That's certainly something that BPI's attorney is playing up, telling jurors that the company "took 30 years to succeed, and it took ABC less than 30 days to severely damage the company".

Those stories called into question the safety of LFTB with headlines such as "70 per cent of ground beef in supermarkets contains pink slime" which generated hundreds of consumer e-mails to ABC.

"Butswinkas told the jury, "'Pink slime' is Dr. [Gerald] Zirstein's opinion of what LFTB looked like in the production process after he actually went to BPI's plant and did a tour in 2002 and after he talked to a BPI employee and referred to the product as goop". In 2014, Tyson began collecting its raw beef trimmings and shipping them for sale to a Beef Products facility in Nebraska.

And Wednesday, provided testimony on why she says statements made about BPI in ABC's news reports were false. Despite concerns they had about the product being sold and labeled as meat, they said supervisors had overruled them. Approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1993, LFTB is made from beef trimmings put through centrifuges to remove fat. Statistics from the local branch of the chamber of commerce indicates that about 6% of the labor force in the area is working in the agricultural sector and other related industries.

Meanwhile, ABC's attorney argued that the "pink slime" reports brought light to the fact that BPI and other ground beef producers had been using an mostly-unknown beef product that most shoppers and customers were unaware they were eating. About 20 miles from BPI's headquarters, Elk Point is home to about 2,000 people.

  • Zachary Reyes