ABC's Lawsuit Is A Reminder That We're Still Eating 'Pink Slime'

Lean, finely textured beef hits the news again.

ABC is facing a defamation trial for its exposé of “pink slime” from 2012. The network reported that pink slime (referred to in the industry as “lean, finely textured beef,” or LFTB) was found in up to 70 percent of all ground beef sold at most major grocery stores ― as well as in America’s fast food and school lunches. The story caused the LFTB industry to tank.

South Dakota judge Cheryle Gering rejected ABC’s request for dismissal last week because she said a jury could find compelling evidence that the news series on pink slime was libelous.

The plaintiff, Beef Products, Inc., says that the reports were “fake news” and gave ABC viewers the impression that their product was unsafe. As a result of the exposé, three of their four plants closed, hundreds of jobs were lost and it cost Beef Products $1.9 billion in business.

South Dakota food libel laws triple damages against those who were found to have knowingly lied about the safety of food, which means ABC could face close to $6 billion in damages. ABC says it never called the LFTB unsafe and stands by its reporting.

LFTB is made from beef chunks and trimmings that are exposed to tiny bursts of ammonia to kill bacteria. While that description has outraged many, the USDA states that LFTB is perfectly safe for consumption. It was developed, after all, as a solution to combat deadly E. coli found in industry hamburgers. The term pink slime was first used by a former USDA scientist Gerald Zirnstein ― the whistleblower in this story ― who toured Beef Products in the 2000s.

As an immediate result of the outrage, fast food companies like McDonald’s vowed to stop using LFTB, as did many major grocery chains. Sales of pink slime fell drastically in 2012 after the exposé. But by 2014, sales had already doubled their all-time low. So, chances are there could be a pink slime burger near you.