By now, you've almost surely heard at least some mention of the notorious "pink slime" that's invading fast food and, by consequence, our children's lunches.
But since ABC News began their broadcasts decrying the "pink slime" last March, not only has their main target, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), been forced to close three of its plants, but their revenue has also plummeted from over $650 million to around $130 million per year. In other words, not a great year for soylent pink.
In retaliation, BPI is hitting Diane Sawyer among others with a 27-count lawsuit asking for at least $1.2 billion in damages. To put that number into some perspective, it's currently about one-fifth of what Walt Disney Co., ABC's parent company, netted in 2012. So they're playing with some high stakes, to say the least. Reuters reports:
Interviews with BPI's founders, agriculture industry officials and legal experts, as well as a review of federal documents and court records, suggest that ABC's reports had certain flaws that could resonate with a jury: ABC's lead reporter on the story mischaracterized BPI's product on Twitter; the network failed to clearly describe on-air how the company's beef wound up in the nation's food supply; and ABC did not reveal in an interview with a former BPI employee that he had lost a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company.
Of course, there is the chance that in seeking reparations for damages, BPI could further damage its reputation. Should the trial be allowed to continue, there's a pretty good chance that the company will be forced to expose their (up to this point) undisclosed methods behind their meat processing. And consumers are already unsettled by the little we do know (and rightly so). BPI founder Eldon Roth told Reuters:
Under the South Dakota version of the law, plaintiffs must show that defendants publicly spread information they knew to be false and stated or implied that an agricultural food product is not safe for consumption by the public.
Seemingly to ABC's benefit, there has yet to be a single reported instance in which they referred to the product as explicitly "dangerous," but calling food meant for human consumption "slime" 137 times in four weeks doesn't paint the cleanest picture. According to Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center at the free-speech promoting group Freedom Forum:
It's hard to imagine ‘slime' being a positive term, but at the same time, was it used with malice? This is going to be a very tough thing for BPI to prove.
More information on BPI's case and their purported "slime" can be found over at Reuters, here. And on the bright side: hey, at least there's no horse meat!