US lawyers have filed a US$1 billion + (NZ$1.2 billion+) defamation lawsuit, on behalf of South Dakota based Beef Products Inc, against the ABC News team for a series of comments made on the channel earlier this year about lean finely textured beef (LFTB) – sometimes pejoratively described as ‘pink slime’.
LFTB is lean beef that is separated in a manufacturing process from fatty beef trimmings, to reduce wastage. The process involves treating the LFTB with small amounts of ammonium hydroxide gas or citric acid to eliminate any harmful bacteria present. The process has been approved as safe by the US Department of Agriculture and it has been reported that over 70 percent of ground beef used in the US is believed to have incorporated LFTB as an ingredient.
However, a range of media commentators including ABC News and British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, criticised the practice and the campaign spread through social media platforms. Despite statements by the USDA and meat industry bodies asserting that LFTB is safe for consumption, a number of major retailers and restaurant chains decided not to use LFTB as a result of considerable negative publicity against the product.
As a result of the campaign, sales dropped off dramatically for the company, which led to it closing three of its four plants in May. The American Meat Institute estimated that without LFTB, the industry would need 1.5 million additional head of cattle to make up the difference in beef supply.
The BPI lawsuit alleges the network’s coverage misled consumers to believe the company’s product was unhealthy and unsafe. News reports note that Walt Disney-owned ABC News has denied the claims and say it will contest them vigorously.
LFTB is not used in New Zealand, as the leaner, pasture-raised New Zealand beef does not produce the high fat trimmings that provide the raw ingredient for LFTB, the Meat Industry Association confirmed earlier this year.
Lessons learned from the LFTB saga were aired at last week’s Australian Meat Industry Council business conference. News reports suggest that various speakers warned that social media could pose a threat and the meat industry needs to be on the front foot when it comes to tackling misinformation.