The South Dakota trial that pitted ABC News against Beef Products Inc., in regards to lean finely textured beef, has ended. On Wednesday, June 28, the two adversaries announced a settlement in the defamation lawsuit. The terms were not disclosed.
“ABC has reached an amicable resolution of its dispute with the makers of ‘lean finely textured beef.’ Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product,” the company said in a news release. ABC News is a unit of the Walt Disney Co.
Beef Products Inc. (BPI) sued ABC News in what was the largest libel suit in history. The trial, which began June 5, revolved around whether BPI’s signature product is “pink slime” or “lean finely textured beef.”
Jury award could have reached $5.7 billion
BPI sued for actual damages of $1.9 billion. Under South Dakota law, however, that figure could have reached $5.7 billion if the jury also had awarded punitive damages of $3.8 billion. Triple damages are allowed under South Dakota law if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knowingly lied about the safety of a food product.
The case was based on 2012 televised reports by ABC News that Beef Products Inc. said defamed the company. In the 20/20 broadcasts, the lawsuit said, ABC and reporter Jim Avila called its ground-beef product “pink slime,” made factual errors and omitted information.
Plaintiff: Plant closings resulted from broadcasts
BPI says that after the 2012 reports, its revenues dropped 80 percent, so the company had to close three of its four processing plants, according to the lawsuit.
ABC has said that its coverage was accurate and protected by the First Amendment’s provision for freedom of speech.
Gerald Zirnstein, a USDA microbiologist, is often credited with the initial use of “pink slime” to describe BPI’s lean finely textured beef product. He used the term in a 2002 email to colleagues after touring Beef Products’ plant. He originally was named as one of the defendants but was later dismissed from the lawsuit.
Many retailers and school districts stopped using Beef Products’ lean finely textured beef after the broadcasts. That led to the decline in business and resulting layoffs, according to the suit, titled Beef Products Inc. et al v. American Broadcasting Cos. et al.