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ABC News Settles ‘Pink Slime’ Defamation Case With Beef Company

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Well, that was quick: Just a few weeks after Beef Products Inc. and ABC News squared off in the opening arguments of the trial over the broadcaster’s use of the phrase “pink slime” to describe an ingredient in some ground beef, the two sides have agreed to put the whole thing to rest.

The settlement’s terms are confidential, reports the Associated Press, but BPI was seeking $1.9 billion in damages. The damages could then have been tripled under South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.

The case involves a product known in the meat industry as Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), which is lean beef that has been mechanically separated from beef trimmings, a process that yields about 10-20 pounds of additional lean beef per animal. LFTB has been approved by the USDA for use in ground beef since 1993.

In its lawsuit [PDF], BPI accused ABC of defamation, product disparagement, and tortious interference, claiming that a March 2012 series of news reports misled viewers into believing that LFTB wasn’t safe, and implying that it wasn’t beef by referring to it as “pink slime.”

ABC had argued that the network presented views and information from “knowledgeable sources on a matter of keen public interest.” A spokeswoman reiterated that point in a statement today, noting that ABC has maintained that its reports accurately represented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about the product.

“Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the Company’s interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer’s right to know about the products they purchase,” the spokeswoman said.

BPI says that although the lawsuit was difficult, it was necessary to repair the harm it claims was caused by ABC’s reports: The company said sales declined from around five millions pounds per week to less than two million pounds, and BPI had to shut down multiple plants in three states.

Several chains also stopped using the product around the time of those reports, though some preceded ABC’s coverage: In January 2012, McDonald’s, discontinued the use of the lean finely textured beef in their products. Other companies like Safeway and Kroger followed in March that year.

“Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about Lean Finely Textured Beef: it is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious,” the company and its family owners said in the statement. “This agreement provides us with a strong foundation on which to grow the business, while allowing us to remain focused on achieving the vision of the Roth and BPI family.”

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