ABC said it reached a settlement in a closely scrutinized lawsuit filed against it by a South Dakota meat producer over ABC News reports that led to critics labeling one of the company’s products “pink slime.”
“ABC has reached an amicable resolution of its dispute with the makers of ‘lean finely textured beef,'” the network said in a statement. ” Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this 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.”
Financial terms of the settlement could not be immediately learned. A spokesman for Beef Products Inc. could not be reached for immediate comment.
An adverse outcome in the trial, which started earlier this month, could have had severe consequences for both ABC and its parent company, Walt Disney. Beef Products was seeking $1.9 billion in damages, but under a South Dakota law, that sum could have grown to as much as $5.7 billion. Beef Products, based in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota, initially sued ABC in 2012, saying news coverage of a meat product known as “lean, finely textured beef” prompted consumers to believe it was unsafe and lead to plant closures and the layoff of hundreds of employees. ABC News has long said it stood by its reporting.
The defamation suit was also filed against ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer and ABC News reporter Jim Avila. Sawyer had been removed from the suit.
At issue was a meat byproduct that sparked concerns from scientists, a handful of whom in 2012 began criticizing its use and its introduction to the nation’s meat supply. A group of former Beef Products employees said in depositions made available during the trial that they felt lean finely textured beef was not in essence meat and that its presence should have been made known to consumers. The scientists said they had used the term “pink slime” to describe the product, which they said should have been identified as an additive and believed was not actually beef as it is commonly defined.