One of the largest defamation lawsuits in American history revolves around something known as “pink slime,” and that term is at the center of a dispute between ABC News and Beef Processors Inc., of Iowa. Over one billion dollars is at stake, depending on the outcome of the case. According to examiner.com, the lawsuit is a result of a series of ABC News investigative reports on how one of the nation’s biggest meat producers prepares its products for the marketplace. What ABC News characterized as pink slime is what the beef processor calls “lean, finely textured beef.”
Carissa Nath is a meat scientist with the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, which specializes in finding new uses for agricultural products and technology, with the goal of expanding business and employment opportunities. She explained what Lean, Finely Textured Beef is: “When carcasses are fabricated (cut; broken down) into steaks, roasts and other retail cuts there is always some amount trim left over. This trim is mainly fat, but often times there will be a good amount of lean that could still be salvaged from this trim. Due to the fact that carcasses are fabricated manually (by human hands), it is impossible to capture all this lean at the time of fabrication. This trim can then be slightly heated and spun rapidly (think of a large salad spinner) to remove all the fat and retain all the lean. The resultant product (beef lean tissue) is LFTB, 100% beef. LFTB is then used in the beef industry by adding it back into other trimmings (ground beef) to make varying levels of lean to fat ratios (85/15 (85% lean 15% fat); 90/10 (90% lean 10% fat), etc, to meet consumer demands.”
Mark Malecek is a cattle farmer from Redwood Falls, Minnesota, and said the goal is to “make the nation’s beef supply go farther, and make beef more affordable for the consumer at the grocery store. They’ve been using this process since 1990.” The controversy arises when the separated beef is processed, heated, and treated with a cloud of gaseous ammonia to kill E. Coli and other bacteria. In 2001, the Food Safety and Inspection Service okayed the process, and agreed that the ammonia was a “processing agent, and didn’t need to be listed on the ingredient label.”
According to Reuters, Dr. Gerald Zirnstein was a microbiologist at USDA, who sent an email to fellow scientist, first using the term “pink slime.” In the email, he said he was “disgusted by the process and USDA’s approval of it,” and coined the term pink slime. He said “USDA undersold it to the public and the meat industry soft-sold it to consumers.”
The issue came back into the public eye thanks to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, devoted an episode of his television show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” to Pink Slime in 2011.
ABC News then picked up the Pink Slime story and ran a series of reports in 2012 about the product.
According to the Pink Slime Wikipedia page, as a result of the series run by ABC News, grocery chains, restaurants, and even school districts announced they would no longer be purchasing beef with the Lean, Finely Textured, beef product. The beef industry was hit hard by the Pink Slime controversy.
On May 8, 2012, Beef Processors Incorporated announced it would be closing three of its four processing plants in the Midwest. On April 12, another producer, AFA Foods, a ground-beef processor, announced it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Beef prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange hit a three and a half month low. Malacek said the cattle prices on the Mercantile “went down about three and a half dollars per hundredweight, which is a significant chunk of the local cattlemen’s profit.” Malecek said prices have returned to where they were before the controversy became news headlines across the country.
As a result of financial losses, BPI announced on September 13, 2012, that it had filed a 1.2 billion dollar lawsuit against ABC News, claiming damages as a result of the pink slime controversy. ABC News denied the allegations, and tried to get the case moved from state court to federal court. In June 2013, a federal judge sent the lawsuit back to state court. According to Reuters.com, on December 17 of last year, lawyers for ABC News asked South Dakota State Judge Cheryle Gering took under advisement oral arguments from both sides in the case, and will issue ruling in the near future as to whether or not the case will proceed to trial.