Pink Slime Defamation Case: What You Need to Know Now

Nati HarnikAP Images

The infamous “pink slime” case has now come to a close. After out of court settlement yesterday, ABC News issued the following statement.

“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.”

Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the plaintiff in the lawsuit (Beef Products, Inc. et al v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.) has claimed vindication. And, while ABC News has claimed it is halting the lawsuit since it is “not in the company’s interests,” the other side is taking it one step further and claiming victory.

“We are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement,” BPI attorney Dan Webb said outside the Union County Courthouse. “I believe we have totally vindicated the product.” Although the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed and may never be known, one may be able to draw certain conclusions about the statements that were issued.

But, what was this lawsuit all about and why was it so important?

Some History

It all goes back to the year 2012. ABC News, along with its anchor, Diane Sawyer, ran a series on a product they referred to as “pink slime,” also known as LFTB or “lean finely textured beef.” This product, which the USDA confirmed as “safe to consume” was, at the time, in widespread use throughout the U.S., with many grocery stores and fast-food chains carrying and using the product. After the ABC series, which was critical of the product with allegations of safety concerns, that largely came to a halt. By March of that year, it was announced that major grocery chains were dropping the product. Needless to say, the ABC series put a real damper on BP’s sale of the product.

Pink slime case settled
The beef product known as pink slime or lean finely textured beef is seen on a tray during a tour Thursday, March 29, 2012, of the Beef Products Inc. plant in South Sioux City, Neb., where the beef product is made.The governors of Iowa, Texas and Kansas and lieutenant governors of Nebraska and South Dakota toured the plant to show their support for the company and the several thousand jobs it creates in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)Featured image credit: Nati HarnikAP Images

BP claimed in its lawsuit that “ABC News reports that had repeatedly used the term ‘pink slime’ to describe BPI’s Lean Finely Textured Beef product had caused millions of dollars in damages to the Dakota Dunes-based meat processor.”

ABC had claimed that “The ‘pink slime’ does not have to appear on the label because, over objections of its own scientists, USDA officials with links to the beef industry labeled it meat.”

Such allegations of collusion between BP and USDA did not remain unanswered. Both BP and USDA responded, BP with the lawsuit and USDA with a statement, “The process used to produce LFTB is safe and has been used for a very long time.”

The first usage of the term “pink slime” dates back to 2009, when it appeared “as a pejorative for this product (LFTB),” according to a 2012 article from the Atlantic.

FILE - In this March 29, 2012 file photo, the beef product known as pink slime or lean finely textured beef is frozen on a large drum as part of its manufacturing process at the Beef Products Inc.'s plant in South Sioux City, Neb. Beef Products Inc. plans to file a defamation lawsuit in the wake of a publicity storm over a meat product that critics have dubbed "pink slime." The Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based company said Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 that it will announce a lawsuit Thursday. A company executive and lawyer refused to name the defendant. [Image byNati Harnik/AP Images]Featured image credit: Nati HarnikAP Images

Previously, there was not a lot of bad press about the product. In fact, in the early 2000s, the USDA endorsed it saying, “it destroys E. coli “to an undetectable level.” But, when the USDA decided to exempt BP from routine testing of the meat in 2007, that may have been the open door leading to the controversy. Why not, if the product was so safe, subject it to testing so that the results would be available and the process transparent?

After the uproar over the 2012 ABC series settled down, the product was able to make a comeback. By 2014, in large part to due increased PR efforts, education and new labeling, sales had recovered by about 60 percent. Still, that was evidence of damage done.

What now?

LFTB is definitely not without controversy. The European Union prohibits its use and has for years. Canada, the same. While it appears that BP can claim victory in the settlement, it may be that the issue is still worth exploring further. Why does the U.S. approve its use while the European Union and Canada do not? Or course, there are many other products that are treated similarly, but the widespread use of the product in the U.S. and the fact that many fast-food restaurants are still using it does make the answer to the question important. The USDA says it is safe and many people trust that. But, USDA has been wrong before, so the controversy may well continue.

[Featured Image by Nati Harnik/AP Images]