Trial will decide if ABC sullied company with ‘pink slime’ report

Posted on June 6, 2017 by


Nati Harnik/Associated Press/File 2012

“Pink slime” refers to processed beef trimmings sold by Beef Products Inc.

A defamation trial over an ABC News report about so-called pink slime, a once-common ingredient in ground beef, began Monday. A South Dakota meat processing company says the report wreaked havoc on its business after it aired in 2012.

The term refers to low-cost processed beef trimmings sold by Beef Products Inc.

The first use of “pink slime” is widely credited to Gerald Zirnstein, a former Agriculture Department scientist, who used it in a 2002 e-mail to colleagues in which he expressed concerns about the product.

The processed trimmings — officially known as lean finely textured beef — were once a popular ingredient in ground beef and were found in hamburgers at McDonald’s and Burger King and in grocery chains and schools across the country.

The product is created by placing trimmings in centrifuges to separate lean meat from fat. The lean meat is then treated with ammonia to remove pathogens. That process, the company has said, was perfected over years and can produce 10 to 20 extra pounds of lean beef per cow.

In 1993, the Agriculture Department approved the processed trimmings for use in ground beef.

Concerns about the product had been mounting for years when, in 2012, ABC News aired an investigation into its widespread use in ground beef.

In the report by correspondent Jim Avila, Zirnstein called the trimmings “a cheap substitute” and said allowing them to be sold as ground beef amounted to “economic fraud.”

Later that year, Beef Products sued ABC for defamation, arguing that the segment and several subsequent reports were rife with inaccuracies and had created a consumer backlash with a “devastating impact” on its bottom line.

The company is now seeking $1.9 billion in damages, but that figure could grow to as much as $5.7 billion under a South Dakota law, according to a recent financial report by the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.

Although it became the target of the lawsuit, ABC News was far from alone in raising questions about the processed trimmings.

In 2010, The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for a series on food safety that included a story on concerns about the Beef Products process. In 2011, the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver described the process on his show, broadcast on ABC, and said that it showed “no respect for food.”

By the time the ABC News report was broadcast, three major fast food chains — McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Burger King — had already committed to dropping the trimmings from their food.

The trial over the ABC News report is expected to last about eight weeks. It will focus on claims by Beef Products that ABC News had launched a “disinformation campaign” and acted “with reckless disregard” for the truth.
In its own court filings, ABC argued that the central question in the case was whether its reporters had acted with “actual malice,” which it said they had not. “We believe in the principle that people deserve to know what’s in the food they eat and … ABC’s reporting will be fully vindicated,” Kevin Baine, a lawyer representing ABC and Avila, said.


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© 2017 US Food Safety Corporation. No copyright claim is made for portions of this blog and linked items that are works of the United States Government, state governments or third parties.

Posted in: Family safety
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