ABC News on Trial for 2012 ‘Pink Slime’ Report: What’s the Beef in $1.9 Billion Case?

South Dakota meat processor Beef Products Inc. claims Jim Avila’s stories were “fake news”

A South Dakota meat processor’s $1.9 billion lawsuit against ABC News began this week in a closely watched case that could have an impact beyond the size of any judgment.

In a South Dakota courtroom this week, Beef Products Inc. argued that a series of 2012 reports by ABC News’ Jim Avila defamed their chief product, which the company calls “lean finely textured beef” but critics have termed “pink slime.”

In his reports, Avila used the term “pink slime” 137 times to describe the substance, which results when beef trimmings are placed in a centrifuge to separate lean mean from fat and then treated with ammonia to kill E.coli and other bacteria, according to BBC.

BPI has called the reports false and defamatory and claimed that they nearly destroyed the business — the company claimed it lost 80 percent of its revenues and was forced to close three of its four processing plants.

“That success took about 30 years to succeed and it took ABC less than 30 days to severely damage the company,” BPI attorney Dan Webb told the court on Monday, Reuters reported.

Attorneys for ABC News have defended the coverage as accurate and protected under the First Amendment. Dane Butswinkas, an attorney for the network, said “pink slime” was a common term and had been used more than 3,800 times in the media prior to Avila’s stories.

He added that the company had lost many customers prior to ABC’s reporting, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell, according to the Associated Press.

“In order to win the case, the beef product company will have to convince the jury that ABC not only said something that is false, but they would also have to show that ABC acted with actual malice,” food attorney Ivan Wasserman told NPR.

The trial, which is expected to last eight weeks, is being held in Elk Point, South Dakota, which is located roughly 20 miles north of BPI’s headquarters.

Last November, election records showed that Donald Trump won 67 percent of the presidential vote in Union County, where Elk Point is situated.