ABC News Is Sued for $1.2 Billion Over 'Pink Slime' Seattle Times

ABC News has been hit with a defamation lawsuit over its coverage of a meat product that has been dubbed “pink slime” by its critics, the Seattle Times reports.

The suit was filed today by Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based meat processor Beef Products Inc., which accuses ABC of misleading consumers into thinking the product is unsafe. The suit seeks $1.2 billion in damages for about 200 "false and misleading and defamatory" statements, according to an attorney for BPI.

The suit, filed in South Dakota, also accuses ABC News of “improper interference with the relationships between BPI and its customers,” the story reports.

The product is official known as lean, finely textured beef, said Dan Webb, the attorney for BPI. The ABC reporting on it, he said, “caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all -- that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat.”

ABC News responded with a brief statement from Senior VP Jeffrey Schneider, who said: "The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously."

The story adds: “The reports cited in the lawsuit include 11 that aired on television and 14 that appeared online in March. Webb said the reports had ‘an enormous impact’ on the company, forcing it to close three of its four U.S. plants and lay off more than 650 workers. Webb said the network also published a list of chain grocery stores that had stopped selling the product, and that this pressured others to end their business relationship with BPI.”

A BPI exec said the firm lost 80% of its business in 28 days, adding that some of the customers have since returned.

“Webb said the reports created the false impression ‘that it's some type of chemical product, that it's not beef. It led people to believe that it's some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers,’” the report notes.

Webb added: "The result of that has been catastrophic for this company.”

The story reports: “Critics worried about the way the meat is processed. Bits of beef are heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill bacteria, a practice that has been used for decades and meets federal food safety standards. The phrase ‘pink slime’ began to spread after it was cited in a 2009 article by The New York Times on the safety of meat processing methods.

“Soon afterward, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver began railing against it. McDonald's and other fast food companies stopped using it, and major supermarket chains including Kroger and Stop & Shop vowed to stop selling beef with the low-cost product.”