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ABC and meat producer settle $1.9-billion lawsuit over 'pink slime'

ABC and a South Dakota meat producer announced a settlement Wednesday in a $1.9-billion lawsuit against the TV network over its reports on a lean, finely textured beef product that critics dubbed “pink slime.”

The terms of the settlement are confidential. Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products Inc., or BPI, sued ABC in 2012, saying ABC's coverage misled consumers into believing that the product was unsafe, was not beef and was not nutritious.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend said in a statement Wednesday that throughout the case, the network has maintained its reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about the product.

“Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the company's interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer's right to know about the products they purchase,” Townsend said.

BPI and its family owners said in a statement that the lawsuit was difficult but necessary to start rectifying the harm suffered as a result of ABC's reports on its product. The coverage emphasized that at the time, the product was present in 70% of the ground beef sold in supermarkets, but wasn't labeled.

After the reports aired, some grocery store chains said they would stop carrying ground beef that contained the product. BPI said in the 2012 complaint that sales declined to less than 2 million pounds a week, from about 5 million.

The product can be added to ground beef to reduce the overall fat content. It's made from trimmings left after a cow is butchered. The meat is separated from the fat, and ammonia gas is applied to kill bacteria. Former Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein named the product “pink slime” in a 2002 agency email.

BPI has said the sales drop forced it to close plants in Iowa, Kansas and Texas, and lay off more than 700 workers. Only a plant in South Sioux City, Neb.,remained open.

“Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about Lean Finely Textured Beef: It is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious,” the company and family said in the statement. “This agreement provides us with a strong foundation on which to grow the business.”

Both ABC and BPI declined to comment beyond their written statements.

BPI could have been seeking damages as high as $1.9 billion, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC. BPI was also seeking “treble” damages, or triple the amount, under South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act and punitive damages.

Opening statements in the trial against ABC and correspondent Jim Avila were in early June. The trial was scheduled to last until late July.

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UPDATES:

9:20 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from BPI and additional background information.

This article was originally published at 7:40 a.m.

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