The wave of outrage over the widespread use of pink slime came quick and came hard for Beef Products Inc., the company behind the lean, finely-textured beef nicknamed “pink slime.” In a matter of 28 days, the heavy news coverage, spearheaded by ABC News, accused the company of manufacturing and selling a possibly unsafe product and nearly put them out of business, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Mega-corporations like McDonald’s and Kroger agreed to stop using the product, and nearly every state (except Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota) opted to stop including “pink slime” in their school lunches.
The problem is, according to BPI, “pink slime” is actually safe. The meat is prepared by heating of beef and treating it with small amounts of ammonia. The process is approved by federal safety standards and has been used to treat meat for decades. It just looks icky.
Image courtesy of the Inquisitr.
As a result of the outrage, BPI lost 80% of its business in 28 days. It closed three of its four U.S. plants and filed for bankruptcy over the summer.
BPI’s 257-page lawsuit seeks $1.2 billion for defamation. The defendants include ABC News, anchor Diane Sawyer, and Gerald Zirnstein, the former USDA microbiologist who coined the term “pink slime.”
In order to prevail on a defamation claim, BPI is going to have to prove that a statement was made to a third party, that injury resulted, that the statement was false, and that it was not privileged.
By reporting the issue, ABC obviously made a statement to third parties, the network’s viewers. Injury certainly happened as well, as BPI lost 80% of its business.
Falsity is going to be the tough element. BPI is essentially going to have to establish the quality and safety of its product if the case proceeds. They will have to prove that “pink slime” is not harmful, which might actually be their end goal. If they can prove that the evidence ABC used was unreliable or dishonest, it’ll go a long way towards redeeming their product in the public’s mind — even if they eventually end up losing the lawsuit.
BPI is not a public figure or celebrity, so the actual malice standard does not apply. But some fault will still have to be shown on ABC’s part. Though the rule varies state to state, the minimum standard for this type of lawsuit is negligence. BPI would have to show that ABC’s research and reporting fell below the standard of a reasonable news organization, which may require expert testimony. In the end, a jury may get to make the final call.