In what could be the largest defamation suit in US history, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) is having its day in court after claiming the company lost revenue over an ABC News investigative report that described its product as “pink slime.” The Wall Street Journal reports that a 12-person jury heard opening statements Monday in South Dakota as BPI makes the case against ABC and reporter Jim Avila for suggesting “that BPI’s product was not beef or meat, had little or no nutritional value, and was not safe to eat.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, the original report aired in 2012 and was titled, “Pink Slime Meat Investigation—Do You Know What’s In Your Food?" It centered around BPI’s lean finely textured beef (LFTB) product, which is approved by the Department of Agriculture, but was called out by an industry whistleblower.
Though LFTB was dubbed by a USDA microbiologist as “pink slime,” family-owned Beef Products claims that ABC used the term to smear the company, causing clients to cancel orders and sales to drop so drastically the company was forced to lay off 700 employees and close three of its four processing plants. ABC lawyers claim that the report repeatedly assured viewers that LFTB was safe to eat, stating “there is not a shred of evidence, let alone clear and convincing proof, that ABC intended to convey the message that LFTB is ‘unsafe for public consumption.'" BPI, which calls the report “fake news,” must prove that ABC’s motivations were based in malice. A new state food disparagement law that allows plaintiffs to triple damages could up BPI's $1.9 billion complaint to almost $6 billion should the company win.