by Marion Nestle
Sep 14 2012

Maker of “pink slime” sues everyone who calls it that

You have to hand it to BPI (Beef Products Inc), the producer of  “Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB)”—a.k.a. “pink slime.”  The company deserves a prize for chutzpah (translation: outrageous audacity).

It has just filed a defamation (“veggie libel”) lawsuit for $1.2 billion (!) against an amazing cast of characters:

  • ABC News (owned by Disney)
  • TV news anchor Diane Sawyer
  • ABC correspondent Jim Avila
  • ABC correspondent David Kerley
  • Gerald Zirnstein , former USDA employee who invented the term “pink slime”
  • Carl Custer, former USDA employee
  • Kit Foshee, whistleblower former BPI employee

South Dakota, apparently, has a veggie libel law to protect companies making food products from people who say mean things about them (recall: the Texas cattlemen vs. Oprah Winfrey).  Nobody has ever tested the constitutionality of veggie libel laws but I don’t know anyone who thinks they will stand up in court—free speech and all that.

BPI says the company lost 80% of its sales, a loss of $20 million per month, following news broadcasts about “pink slime.”  It had to close three facilities—in Texas, Kansas, and Iowa—and fire 650 workers at those places as well as 85 others at the company’s headquarters in South Dakota.

As I’ve written before, I see the “pink slime” episode as reflecting a lack of transparency in the beef industry and BPI’s efforts to defend its products as an example of power politics in action.

BPI is fighting back, hard.

The responses:

ABC News says, “The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously.”

Bill Marler, the Seattle attorney who specializes in representing victims of food poisonings, has taken on this case and is representing Custer and Zirnstein.

Marler points out:

  • You can buy a lot of Pink Slime for $1.2 billion.
  • Someone should have told BPI’s lawyer it is not a great PR move to repeat the same charge that your client is now claiming harmed them in the first place.
  • The lawsuit is without merit.
  • We intend to defend this bogus, unwarranted and frivolous claim brought by BPI against these two former FSIS public employees.
  • We are also contemplating filing a counter-claim against PBI.

Let the charges and countercharges begin!

This one will be almost as much fun to watch as the equally absurd legal squabbles between the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association over what to call High Fructose Corn Syrup.  I’ll do a post on that next week sometime.