Summary: In the middle of a high-profile defamation trial, ABC settled with the plaintiff, Beef Products Inc.
On Wednesday, ABC and Beef Products Inc. settled the “pink slime” lawsuit. The two parties had been battling it out in court for three weeks before finally reaching an undisclosed agreement. In a statement, the network said that the resolution was “amicable.”
“This was a long road to travel for BPI,” Beef Products Inc. attorney Dan Webb said in a phone interview to CNN. “We felt the trial was necessary to rectify the enormous financial harm that had been suffered by BPI as a result of what we believed to be extraordinarily biased and baseless reporting by ABC in 2012.”
In 2012, ABC aired a series of news reports that said Beef Products Inc. (BPI) used a finely textured beef product, which they referred to as “pink slime.” The South Dakota-based company said that the segments damaged its business with the disgusting name and sued the network for almost $5.7 billion.
ABC explained that “pink slime” was safe to eat but that BPI did not label the ingredient that was included in its beef products. BPI said that ABC’s mislabeling of the product as “pink slime” turned people off and resulted in numerous of its employees being laid off due to loss of sales.
The defamation trial began on June 5 and took place in Elk Point, South Dakota. In the middle of the trial, ABC settled before it began its defense.
BPI’s lawyer Webb, a former U.S. attorney and a partner at Winston & Strawn, told CNN that his side had presented evidence that was well-received by the jury, and he believed that BPI was “vindicated” by the process.
“We were looking forward to taking the case all the way to the verdict, but then settlement discussions sprang up this week,” Webb said. “From our client’s standpoint, this allows them to grow their business back.”
ABC said that it supported its reporting and that it settled to end the legal battle.
“Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product,” the statement said. “Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the Company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase.”
If ABC had lost the case, there was a chance that they could have owed BPI billions. In the network’s report, they called “lean finely textured beef” “pink slime” and BPI said that they had ignored its proper name and that the phrase “pink slime” scared off consumers.
“Pink slime” is a common ingredient in beef products and is safe to eat. It is made from the trimmings of a cow and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria.
“They ignored the proper name,” Webb said in his opening argument at trial. “When you have a major news organization that is calling the product ‘slime,’ witnesses will say they can’t imagine anything worse. It connotes something disgusting, inedible.”
During his opening argument, Webb described BPI’s origin story and how the company had moved almost 5 million pounds of beef a week before ABC’s report, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He said that BPI allowed consumers to obtain lean beef at an affordable price while also slaughtering fewer animals.
“It took 30 years to succeed and it took ABC less than 30 days to severely damage the company,” Webb said to the jury.
BPI said that it laid off 700 people and closed three plants because of the “pink slime” backlash. ABC said that their report let consumers know what ingredient was in the food that they were consuming.
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