South Dakota’s evocatively named Beef Products Inc., incorporated makers of beef products, is suing ABC News for economic damage wrought by the network’s use of the term “pink slime” to describe the slimy, pink filler material that BPI once proudly ginned up. Earlier this year, BPI announced that it was halting production of the horrifying concoction, largely because people find the concept of finely mushed animal parts treated with ammonia to be unappealing. Or, as BPI sees it, because of ABC.
The company filed its lawsuit in a South Dakota state court seeking at least $1.2 billion in damages under a state law that gives agricultural companies the ability to sue when their products are criticized.
Dan Webb, a lawyer representing BPI, said ABC defamed its products by simply calling the beef additive “pink slime.” Mr. Webb said BPI blames ABC for causing consumers “to believe that our lean beef product, which is 100% beef, is something called pink slime; that is some type of unhealthy and repulsive liquid product that is not even meat.”
The beef product was referred to as “pink slime” in national news coverage earlier this year. The company in May suspended operations at three plants after the beef additive fell victim to an online social-media campaign to get the additive removed from school lunch offerings.
It’s worth noting that ABC didn’t invent the term. Fox News describes its origin:
The term ‘pink slime’ was first coined in 2002 by Food Safety Inspection Service microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, who toured a Beef Products Inc. production facility. Zirnstein later emailed his colleagues and told them he did not “consider the stuff to be ground beef,” according to [The Daily].
“We originally called it soylent pink,” Carl Custer, another microbiologist with the Food Safety Inspection Service, told The Daily. “We looked at the product, and we objected to it because it used connective tissue instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent (to ground beef). My main objection was that it was not meat.”
What ABC is being sued for, then, is basically just reporting — what BPI’s additive is, where it ends up, what it’s called. If precedent is any indicator, BPI faces an uphill battle. In 1998, Oprah Winfrey was sued by cattle ranchers who claimed that her report on mad cow disease cost them millions in lost sales. Winfrey won the case.
Read BPI’s full complaint.