ELK POINT, S.D. - A lawyer for ABC on Tuesday asked a circuit judge to throw out a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of a meat product called lean, finely textured beef.
Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering said she'll issue a written ruling at later date but she did not give a time frame.
Beef Products Inc. sued American Broadcasting Companies Inc. and ABC News Inc. in September 2012 following the network's reports about the product that critics have dubbed "pink slime." The Dakota Dunes-based meat processor claims the network damaged the company by misleading consumers into believing the product is unhealthy and unsafe. BPI is seeking $1.2 billion in damages.
Kevin Baine, an attorney representing ABC, said the network in each of its broadcasts stated that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed the product safe to eat.
"ABC never hinted that this is unsafe," Baine said. "ABC never quoted critics saying it is unsafe."
But Eric Connolly, an attorney for BPI, said those statements in a series of news reports were coupled with negative context calling the product filler or "not meat" and implying that the FDA was not a credible source because the agency overruled scientists in approving the food product's use.
Connolly said BPI was the only producer mentioned in ABC's reports, and the network intended to damage BPI's reputation and destroy its relationship with its customers. He said ABC used the derogatory phrase "pink slime" 132 times.
"This was not an off-the-cuff remark or a one-time incident," Connolly said.
Lean, finely textured beef is made using a process in which trimmings left after a cow is butchered are heated, lean meat is separated from fat and ammonia gas is applied to kill bacteria. The product has been widely used in ground hamburger. BPI officials have long insisted that the product is safe and healthy, and they blamed the closure of plants in Iowa, Texas and Kansas and roughly 700 layoffs.
Baine said although the company might not like the connotation of the rhetorical and hyperbolic phrase, "pink slime" is not incorrect and the company doesn't get to choose ABC's words. Lean, finely textured beef is both pink and — like all ground beef — has a slimy texture, he said.
In addition to ABC, the lawsuit names ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and ABC correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley as defendants. It also names Gerald Zirnstein, the U.S. Department of Agriculture microbiologist who named the product "pink slime," former federal food scientist Carl Custer and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC.
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