Friday September 14, 2012

NORTH SIOUX CITY, S.D. (AP) -- Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News, Inc. for defamation Thursday over its coverage of a meat product that critics dub "pink slime," claiming the network damaged the company by misleading consumers into believing it is unhealthy and unsafe.

The Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based meat processor is seeking $1.2 billion in damages for roughly 200 "false and misleading and defamatory" statements about the product officially known as lean, finely textured beef, said Dan Webb, BPI’s Chicago-based attorney.

The lawsuit filed in a South Dakota state court also names several individuals as defendants, including ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and the Department of Agriculture microbiologist who coined the term "pink slime."

The company’s reporting "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," Webb said.

ABC News, owned by The Walt Disney Co., denied BPI’s claims.

The 257-page lawsuit names American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., ABC News, Inc., Sawyer and ABC correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley as defendants. It also names Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who named the product "pink slime," Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC.


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Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food-quality assurance, said the company lost 80 percent of its business in 28 days. BPI has declined to discuss how much it lost in sales, but acknowledged it took a "substantial" hit.

Webb said the reports had a "catastrophic" impact on the company, forcing it to close three of its four U.S. plants and lay off 700 workers.