'Pink slime' defamation case against ABC under way in South Dakota

'Pink slime' defamation case against ABC under way in South Dakota

'Pink slime' defamation case against ABC under way in South Dakota

The formal name used by the industry for pink slime is "lean, finely textured beef", but as ABC News reported in 2012, the substance that's found in about 70% of U.S. beef was actually comprised of "beef trimmings that were once used only in dog food and cooking oil, now sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat, and then added to most beef as a cheaper filler".

ABC News goes to trial this week over a "pink slime" story that aired in 2012, sparking a South Dakota meat processing plant to file a defamation lawsuit that seeks $1.9 billion in damages.

Beef Products Inc. claims that the news report and reporter Jim Avila defamed the company by calling the product it produced "pink slime" and making errors and omissions that damaged the company's reputation, Reuters reported.

The trial will take place in Elk Point, South Dakota, population 2,000, about 20 miles north of BPI's headquarters, which employs 110 people.

Lawyers for BPI have declined to say if they plan to focus on "fake news" as a tactic at trial. But during a January court hearing, a BPI lawyer, Erik Connolly, said ABC broadcasts and online reports about "lean finely textured beef" (LFTB) used unreliable sources and set out to foment public outrage.

ABC has countered that its coverage was accurate and deserved protection under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment which guarantees freedom of religion, speech and the right to a free press. ABC News reported in 2012 that the product was added as a filler to 70 percent of the ground beef sold in US supermarkets to reduce the overall fat content, though this wasn't disclosed on the labels.

ABC denies any wrongdoing and is confident its reporting will be "fully vindicated", a lawyer for ABC and Avila, Kevin Baine of Williams & Connolly, has said.

The so-called "pink slime", which was sold by Beef Products, was once a commonly used ingredient in ground beef, according to The New York Times.

Not since talk show host Oprah Winfrey in 1998 took on cattle producers in Amarillo, Texas, have big media and big agriculture squared off in such a high-profile way on the industry's home turf.

As in the Winfrey case, the lawsuit against ABC is upending a quiet, rural town.

BPI moved modular offices into town to accommodate its legal team, the company said.

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