ABC News goes to trial this week over a "pink slime" story that aired in 2012, sparking a South Dakota meat processing plant to file a defamation lawsuit that seeks $1.9 billion in damages.
Beef Products Inc. claims that the news report and reporter Jim Avila defamed the company by calling the product it produced "pink slime" and making errors and omissions that damaged the company's reputation, Reuters reported.
Since the airing of the report, BPI eventually closed three of its four processing plants as its revenues tumbled 80 percent to $130 million, according to the news service.
The so-called "pink slime," which was sold by Beef Products, was once a commonly used ingredient in ground beef, according to The New York Times. The product was created by placing trimmings in centrifuges to separate lean meat from fat.
The lean meat was then treated with ammonia to remove pathogens, perfected over years to produce 10 to 20 extra pounds of lean beef per cow, according to the Times.
Agriculture officials and others raised concern about the process and by the time the ABC News story aired, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King all had committed to dropping the trimmings from their food, The New York Times noted.
National Public Radio said the trial, which is happening in state court in South Dakota, could have a bearing on how the media cover such investigative stories.
"(Beef Products Inc. is) suing under everything under the sun – product disparagement, interference with business operations and a variety of other claims," Jane Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, told NPR.
"It's only a trial decision at this point, so of course, it would have no precedential value. But I do think it's a bellwether in the sense that it raises two very critical issues. One is that BPI claims that ABC News was basically on a disinformation campaign, which is another way of saying fake news," Kirtley continued.
Reuters said BPI must show the network intended to harm the company or knew what it reported was false when it referred to BPI's "lean finely textured beef" product as "pink slime."
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