Back in April, it looked like the final nail was being pounded into the coffin of the beef product known as "pink slime" after the company responsible for unleashing the stuff on the country closed 75 percent of its plants amid shriveling sales. But it sounds as though pink slime is back — with a vengeance! South Dakota's Beef Products, Inc. is suing ABC News for defamation, claiming the network's repeated exposés on the product were part of a smear campaign leading to epidemic media and social network coverage that zapped demand for an ingredient once widely purchased by public schools, supermarkets, and restaurants.
BPI wanted everyone to swallow the name "finely textured lean beef trimmings" for this unnatural amalgamation of beef scraps, intense heat, and ammonia gas that was deemed safe by the USDA. The lawsuit claims ABC lead viewers and other outlets to believe the stuff was unhealthy and made of connective tissue, rather than the muscle it claims.
The L.A. Times learns that the lawsuit is not only targeting the Disney-owned network but also associates like ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, reporters David Kerley and Jim Avila, and Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who first blew the whistle on the product and forever branded it with the "pink slime" name.
BPI's lawyer calls the news reports a "massive and destructive, focused attack on our product and our business." The lawsuit alleges that ABC made "200 false and disparaging statements" about the rose-shaded slime lord, leading to an 80 percent drop in sales of the stuff.
But the lawsuit may be standing on wobbly legs. Citing experts in the fields of food law and defamation suits, Mercury News foresees the legal battle as an "uphill climb" for BPI, who will have to prove the network knowingly reported irresponsible and false information. Experts say most food defamation suits end in settlements, and ABC, for its part, is prepared to dig in for the fight. The network's vice-president offers a statement that reads, in part, "The lawsuit is without merit ... We will contest it vigorously."
BPI's lawsuit reeks a little of desperation at this point. The company hedged its bets on a chemically treated beef by-product that most Americans didn't know they were being fed. Exposure of its exact nature was bound to rise to the surface sooner or later.
And whether one calls it "finely textured lean beef trimmings," "pink slime," or straddles some sort of more pinpointed middle ground, it's hard to deny a recent rise in consciousness in the average U.S. consumer, increasingly concerned with what goes into their food and clogging the aisles at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. One look at something like this, and it doesn't take a Mark Bittman to convince you to avoid the stuff wherever possible.
Still, BPI is hoping against hope that it can rally back from its catastrophic PR and financial nightmare. But it just might be that the company's time has truly come.