'Pink slime' is now at the center of a $5.7 billion lawsuit as furious beef company defends product

A $US5.7 billion lawsuit claims that a story ABC News ran in 2012 misled viewers and caused hundreds of layoffs.

On Monday, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) and ABC News delivered their opening statements in a trial that could result in a verdict of as much as $US5.7 billion if Beef Product Inc. wins.

BPI alleges that ABC misled viewers by calling “lean finely textured beef” (LFTB) “pink slime.” LFTB is a commonly used ingredient in beef products and is safe to eat, which ABC noted in its report. However, even with assurances that the ingredient, which is made from the trimmings of a cow and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria, wasn’t dangerous, the phrase “pink slime” allegedly turned off customers.

“They ignored the proper name,” BPI’s lawyer, Dan Webb, said in court Monday, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “When you have a major news organisation that is calling the product ‘slime,’ witnesses will say they can’t imagine anything worse. It connotes something disgusting, inedible.”

Ground beefWikimedia CommonsGround beef without LFTB, also known as ‘pink slime.’

BPI said it had to close three plants and lay off 700 workers due to “pink slime” backlash.

Meanwhile, ABC’s attorney argued that the “pink slime” reports brought light to the fact that BPI and other ground beef producers had been using an mostly-unknown beef product that most shoppers and customers were unaware they were eating.

“None of this was illegal,” ABC’s lawyer, Dane Butswinkas, said. “Just another day in the swamp. Politics as usual.”

“It raises two very critical issues,” Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, told NPR.

“One is that BPI claims that ABC News was basically on a disinformation campaign, which is another way of saying fake news,” Kirtley said. “The other goes at the heart of what the media are supposed to be doing, which is informing the public about things that might be matters of interest to them but which corporate America might not be interested in sharing with them.”

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