Dakota Dunes, SD
A billion dollar lawsuit against ABC News could be decided by a Union County jury.
On Thursday Dakota Dunes based Beef Products Incorporated filed a defamation lawsuit against the network following the 'pink slime' controversy.
BPI claims the news reports destroyed its business.
BPI says that ABC made nearly 200 false and misleading statements about its lean finely textured beef product that was called 'pink slime' during a series of stories that aired on the national news network in March.
BPI says those stories led stores and restaurants to pull its product and forced BPI to close three of its four plants and cut 700 jobs.
Beef Products Incorporated says it's lean finely textured beef is safe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture agrees. Its lawyers claim ABC News ignored that fact when it ran several stories this spring.
"Even though ABC implied it's unsafe, it's slime, this product right now has been consumed in billions of meals," BPI attorney Dan Webb said.
ABC interviewed former USDA employees and a former BPI employee in March who criticized the company's process of taking beef trimmings, puffing them with ammonia and adding the meat into ground beef.
One of the critics called the product 'pink slime' and by the end of March stores were pulling it off their shelves and BPI was cutting jobs.
"Thirty years to build this business and less than 30 days to tear it down," BPI Director of Quality Assurance Craig Letch said.
BPI has named ABC anchor Diane Sawyer, two ABC correspondents and the former employees from the USDA and BPI in the more than $1 billion lawsuit.
Even though other news outlets have done stories on the product, an attorney for BPI says ABC's reports were prolonged and had devastating effect.
"ABC every night would repeat these false statements night after night after night," Webb said.
Of the four BPI plants that made lean finely textured beef the plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska is the one that is still operating. When asked if they think their business will ever come back BPI says the future is still uncertain.
"Eighty percent of our sales are gone, those things are going to be difficult to overcome, but we are dedicated to rebuilding this business," BPI Director of Corporate Engineering Nick Roth said.
BPI hopes to start that process by clearing its name in a South Dakota courtroom.
"We don't understand why this happened. This wasn't tied to a food-borne illness outbreak. This wasn't tied to a quality issue. This wasn't tied to consumer health. This was tied to a misinformation campaign that was waged against this family of companies by ABC," Letch said.
BPI also said ABC ruined its customer base by airing a 'blacklist' of sorts every night on the news of the grocery stores still selling the product and the stores that had pulled it off the shelves.
ABC News vows to fight the lawsuit. A vice president told the Associated Press Thursday the case is without merit and the news organization will contest it vigorously.