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Defamation trial against ABC News over ‘pink slime’ beef begins

The beef product that critics call "pink slime" -- during a plant tour of Beef Products Inc. in South Sioux City, Neb.
The beef product that critics call “pink slime” -- during a plant tour of Beef Products Inc. in South Sioux City, Neb.
(Nati Harnik / Associated Press)

A jury has been selected in a more than $1-billion defamation lawsuit trial over ABC news reports on a South Dakota meat producer’s lean, finely textured beef product, which critics have dubbed “pink slime.”

Opening statements in the trial began Monday. The Sioux City Journal reports that a panel of 12 jurors and four alternates was seated this week.

Dakota Dunes-based Beef Products Inc. sued ABC in 2012. The company says the television network’s coverage misled consumers into believing the product is unsafe. BPI says that led to plant closures and hundreds of layoffs.

ABC stands by its reporting. It says in court documents that it accurately presented views and information from “knowledgeable sources on a matter of keen public interest.”

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The 2012 lawsuit named as defendants ABC News, owned by Walt Disney Co., as well as anchor Diane Sawyer and reporter Jim Avila, among others.

Beef Products is seeking $1.9 billion in damages, but that figure could grow to as much as $5.7 billion under a South Dakota law, according to a recent filing by Disney.

The trial is scheduled to last until late July.

After ABC News began reporting on the product, the company faced a widespread consumer backlash and grocery chains nationwide began pulling beef containing the product from their meat sections.

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The beef industry attempted to mount a defense of lean, finely textured beef. The American Meat Institute and others sought to ease consumers’ fears by providing a fact sheet on the product.


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