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ABC Seeks Dismissal of ‘Pink Slime’ Defamation Suit

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ABC NewsABC News is seeking dismissal of the $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against it over its stories involving a meat processor’s “pink slime.”

Beef Products. Inc. (BFI), based in South Dakota, is suing ABC News Inc. along with news anchors and correspondents who took part in the reporting about “pink slime,” which Beef Products claims was a false characterization of its lean, finely textured beef (LFTB). The lawsuit was brought under South Dakota defamation law and another state law that provides a legal cause of action for businesses who believe another party is disseminating false information about a food product’s safety. Such “food disparagement” or “food libel laws” are on the books in thirteen states.

The subject of the BFI lawsuit is approximately 200 allegedly “false and misleading and defamatory” statements made by ABC News.

ABC is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit, arguing that “pink slime” is actually an apt description of the beef, and “[t]hat term, while unflattering, does not convey false facts about the color or texture of LFTB and is precisely the kind of ‘imaginative expression’ and ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ that is constitutionally protected.”

Moreover, ABC argues that there is no violation of the food libel law as that only deals with food safety, and ABC, the company maintains, never questioned the safety of the beef.

“The ABC News reports repeatedly stated that LFTB is safe to eat,” ABC argues.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include Gerald Zirnstein, a microbiologist credited with labeling the beef as “pink slime” as well as  Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former manager at BFI.

BFI, who has closed three plants and laid off about 700 employees since the “pink slime” reports, plans to challenge the motion to dismiss, though it faces an uphill battle to win in court as it ultimately would have to show that ABC knowingly published false information with an intent to harm its business.

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November 1st, 2012 at 10:55 am

Posted in First Amendment

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