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'Pink slime' maker sues ABC News for $1.2 billion

ABC's Diane Sawyer introducing the new investigation into the meat product now known as
ABC's Diane Sawyer introducing the new investigation into the meat product now known as "pink slime".
ABC News

The manufacturers of the meat product notoriously nicknamed "pink slime" is suing ABC News for sliming it, so to speak.

Beef Products Inc. is suing the Disney-owned news giant for $1.2 billion because of approximately 200 "false and misleading and defamatory" statements regarding its "lean finely textured beef [LFTB]", the Associated Press is reporting.

Among the defendants in the lawsuit are ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer, ABC news correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley, and the USDA microbiologist who coined the term for the meat "pink slime," Gerald Zirnstein.

BPI is complaining that the bad press "caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all — that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat," the company's lawyer Dan Webb said before the company's official announcement.

"The lawsuit is without merit," Jeffrey W. Schneider, ABC News' senior vice president, said in a two-sentence statement Thursday. "We will contest it vigorously"

BPI said its company lost 80 percent of its business in just 28 days and was forced to lay off more than 650 workers and close three of its four U.S. plants. Grocery stores and even restaurants like McDonald's announced they would no longer carry the product.

Is the meat product safe? According to the USDA, absolutely.

"I believe it is important to distinguish people’s concerns about how their food is made from their concerns about food safety," Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, Undersecretary for Food Safety and Inspection Service said in March. "The process used to produce LFTB is safe and has been used for a very long time. And adding LFTB to ground beef does not make that ground beef any less safe to consume." 

The federal agency believed in the product so much that it announced in the spring it will buy 7 million pounds of the slime for the National School Lunch Program. Upon hearing that announcement, an online petition was signed by thousands of concerned parents. Still, the USDA promised the meat was safe. 

"All USDA ground beef purchases for the National School Lunch Program must meet the highest standards for food safety.  This includes stringent pathogen testing and compliance with all applicable food safety regulations." USDA spokesman Michael Jarvis said to MSNBC in March. "USDA has strengthened ground beef food safety standards in recent years and only allows products into commerce - and especially into schools -- that we have confidence are safe."

So with all that said, do you think BPI will win its case against ABC News?