Beef Products Inc. (BPI), makers of lean finely textured beef product (LFTB) that has been dubbed “pink slime,” has slapped ABC News and three of its reporters with a $1.2 billion lawsuit. Many have seen the pictures of LFTB making their way around the Internet after it made headlines for being used in fast food restaurants and millions of school lunches, nationwide. BPI is claiming damages, including revenue and job losses, due to ABC’s coverage of LFTB.
LFTB is made from connective tissue and meat scraps that are ground together. To sanitize it, it is cleaned with a mixture of ammonia and water. The ammonia mixture, ammonium hydroxide, is considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe), by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), but that fact didn’t stop many consumers from being disgusted that it is in the food population. McDonald’s, who used LFTB under the name “select beef trimmings,” discontinued using the product as a filler in their hamburger patties after the revelation of the pink slime outraged many.
In a video defending their product, BPI founder Eldon Roth said, “There has to be some consequences for news organizations to be more truthful. They hurt real people, and a lot of people.” Roth claims that ABC News made reports that were false and damaging. BPI’s attorney, Dan Webb, said in a written public statement, “Through nearly 200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign, ABC and other individuals knowingly misled consumers into believing that LFTB was not beef and not safe for public consumption, which is completely false.”
BPI claims that, since ABC and other media outlets began coverage of the meat product, sales have declined over 50%, going from five million pounds of LFTB per week, to under two million pounds per week. They’ve had to close three facilities and lay off over 700 employees. In addition to McDonald’s discontinued use of LFTB, Burger King, Taco Bell, Safeway, Food Lion and SUPERVALU have all discontinued it as well. It wasn’t long before a Change.org petition resulted in the USDA announcing the decision to offer school districts the option of beef without LFTB. With this loss, BPI is asking for over $1 billion in statutory and compensatory damages, as well as punitive damages for what they are calling, “defamation, product and food disparagement, and tortious interference with business relationships.”
What is particularly being called into account is the fact that the substance started being called “pink slime,” which is considered especially damning. Food safety attorney Bill Marler, who is representing former FSIS employees named in the lawsuit, says that he believes that, “The words ‘pink slime’ came from an internal email between inspectors at FSIS commenting on the product. Another inspector called it ‘Soylent Pink’ – which I thought was even better. These documents came out during litigation I had with Cargill in 2009, which the New York Times used in part to get a Pulitzer. Then almost three years later, The Daily writes a story that some chains had quietly stopped using LFTB, then a mom blogger puts up a petition asking that it be taken out of the school lunch program and ABC picks it up from there.”
Senior Vice President of ABC News, Jeffrey Schneider said that the lawsuit is meritless and that ABC will be contesting it vigorously. We take it as a huge victory in the right direction, as consumers are being armed with the truth and changing their dietary decisions.