Beef Products Inc. (BPI) has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News,
Diane Sawyer and two former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
employees, among others, claiming that they “knowingly and intentionally
published nearly 200 false and disparaging statements regarding the
company and its product, lean finely textured beef (LFTB).” Beef Prods. Inc. v.
ABC, Inc., No. ___ (Cir. Ct., Union Cty., S. Dak., filed September 13, 2012).
The company is seeking $1.2 billion in damages.

At one time, LFTB was used in some 70 percent of ground beef; it is made from fatty scraps remaining after cattle carcasses are cut into steaks and roasts. Bits of lean meat are heated and separated from the fat in a centrifuge, then treated with ammonium hydroxide gas to rid the product of E. coli or other pathogens. BPA claims that it sold more than 3.7 billion pounds of LFTB between 2003 and 2012 and its average weekly sales exceeded 5.5 million pounds with operating profits of $2.3 million per week. According to the company, the disinformation campaign about its product spread across national media outlets and on social media sites, leading fast food restaurants, large supermarket chains and most school lunch programs to stop using it. The company reportedly suspended operations in three of its four plants and eliminated more than 650 jobs.

According to the complaint, ABC aired celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s “Food
Revolution” beginning in March 2010, and about a year later, Oliver “made
multiple false statements regarding the process used by BPI to produce LFTB.”
While BPI apparently informed ABC that the statements about its product
were false, “ABC did not issue an apology. ABC did not issue a retraction. ABC
did not insist that Oliver correct the various false statements he presented
during his show.” The defendant then, according to the complaint, broadcast
multiple stories about BPI and LFTB throughout March 2012 and published
14 different online reports during the same time period. Defendant Gerald
Zimstein, a former USDA microbiologist, allegedly dubbed LFTB “pink slime”
and “appeared on ABC broadcasts and was quoted in ABC’s online reports.”

Among other matters, BPI contends that “[c]onsistent with the use of the
phrase ‘pink slime’ to describe LFTB, Defendants made false statements to
convince consumers that LFTB is not beef, or even meat. . . . Defendants stated
that selling ground beef with LFTB amounted to an ‘economic fraud’ because
LFTB was a ‘substitute’ for beef. These statements were intentionally and
knowingly false statements by Defendants. LFTB is 100% beef.” See Sioux City
Journal, September 12, 2012; Huff Post Food, September 13, 2012.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.