Verdicts & Settlements

ABC settles suit claiming 'pink slime' stories defamed beef company

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ground beef

At the time the ABC News story ran in 2012, about 70 percent of ground beef on the market contained “lean, finely textured beef,” a product dubbed “pink slime” by its critics.

ABC News on Wednesday settled a $1.9 billion defamation lawsuit claiming its stories about a ground beef product labeled “pink slime” by the network had damaged the business that produces it.

The suit settled for an undisclosed amount during a trial of the claims in South Dakota, report the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), the Sioux City Journal and Reuters.

ABC News could potentially have been held liable for nearly $6 billion under a state law that triples damages for knowingly lying about a food product’s safety, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The plaintiff, Beef Products Inc., had claimed the network falsely portrayed the meat product as unhealthy and “not beef,” though it is safe to eat and nutritious. The product, which is added to ground beef, is made from beef chunks and defatted trimmings that are chemically treated to kill contaminants.

The report by ABC correspondent Jim Avila had said the product was made “with beef trimmings…once used only in dog food.” The report said the trimmings were “sprayed with ammonia to make them safe to eat and then added to most ground beef as a cheaper filler.”

Dan Webb, a lawyer for the company, said in a statement outside the South Dakota courthouse that “we are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement,” according to coverage by the Sioux City Journal. “I believe we have totally vindicated the product,” he said.

ABC correspondent Jim Avila said he realized the settlement was a business decision by the network and he wished jurors had been able to hear his side of the story. A statement by ABC said the company concluded that continued litigation was not in its interests, and it has maintained its reports accurately portrayed the facts.

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