— Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News, Inc. for defamation Thursday over its coverage of a meat product that critics dub "pink slime," claiming the network misled consumers into believing it is unhealthy and unsafe.
The Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based meat processor is seeking $1.2 billion in damages for roughly 200 "false and misleading and defamatory" statements about the product officially known as lean, finely textured beef, said Dan Webb, BPI's Chicago-based attorney.
The lawsuit filed in a South Dakota state court also names several individuals as defendants, including ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and the Departure of Agriculture microbiologist who coined the term "pink slime."
The company's reporting "caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all — that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat," Webb said before the company's official announcement.
ABC News, owned by The Walt Disney Co., denied BPI's claims.
"The lawsuit is without merit," Jeffrey W. Schneider, the news station's senior vice president, said in a brief statement Thursday. "We will contest it vigorously"
The 257-page lawsuit names American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., ABC News, Inc., Sawyer and ABC correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley as defendants. It also names Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who named the product "pink slime," Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC.
The "defendants engaged in a monthlong vicious, concerted disinformation campaign against BPI," the lawsuit claims.
The reports cited in the lawsuit include 11 that aired on television and 14 that appeared online between March 7 and April 3.
Webb said the reports had "an enormous impact" on the company, forcing it to close three of its four U.S. plants and lay off more than 650 workers. Webb said the network also published a list of chain grocery stores that had stopped selling the product, and that this pressured others to end their business relationship with BPI.