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Organic org mulls ’20/20′ lawsuit

OTA: If Stossel not canned, only reprimanded, we'll see you in court

NEW YORK — The Organic Trade Assn. may file a class-action lawsuit against ABC to compensate for damage allegedly inflicted on organic farmers after a false report on the industry appeared twice on the net’s newsmag “20/20.”

“We are considering all of our options for legal action at this time,” said Katherine DiMatteo, the org’s exec director, who was interviewed on-air by ABC News correspondent John Stossel during the now-infamous report.

DiMatteo said OTA is working with a team of lawyers and is waiting to see how Stossel phrases his on-air correction and apology during tonight’s episode of “20/20.”

Discipline planned

On Wednesday, sources said that ABC News would formally reprimand Stossel and that the segment’s producer David W. Fitzpatrick would be suspended without pay for a month.

But the OTA and the Environmental Working Group — which initially brought the report’s flaws to light — contend a reprimand is not enough.

“ABC News has to fire John Stossel for going on the air and lying to the American people,” said EWG president Ken Cook. DiMatteo said she will be satisfied if the Alphabet web airs a full retraction of the entire story during both the summer and during sweeps.

The original report, which aired Feb. 4, implied that organic food could be deadly. Citing research he said was commissioned by ABC News, Stossel declared that organic food was more likely to be contaminated by dangerous E. coli bacteria and does not necessarily have less pesticide residue than conventional food.

Report contradicted

But two researchers who were commissioned to do the testing said they never tested for pesticide residue and that the tests conducted could only detect the presence of generic E. coli and not the presence of dangerous E. coli. Despite complaints about the report from the EWG, ABC aired the segment again July 7.

The OTA screened outtakes from DiMatteo’s interview with Stossel at a press conference Thursday. The tape showed that Stossel knew that the results of the tests were not scientifically significant. “We should do another test,” the reporter says on the tape.

ABC News declined comment except to say, “We have completed our review of the circumstances surrounding the error and have taken the appropriate actions.”

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