ABC says it’s settling ‘pink slime’ defamation lawsuit

ABC News has reached a settlement with a South Dakota meat producer that filed a $1.9-billion lawsuit against the network over its reports on the company’s lean, finely textured beef product that critics dubbed “pink slime,” the TV network said Wednesday.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend said in a statement that the network has “reached an amicable resolution of its dispute with the makers” of the beef product. Townsend said the settlement terms are confidential.

“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,” Townsend said.

Dakota Dunes, S.D.-based Beef Products sued ABC in 2012, saying the network’s coverage misled consumers into believing that the product was unsafe and led to the closure of three plants and the layoffs of roughly 700 workers.

After the reports aired, some grocery store chains said they would stop carrying ground beef that contained the product. Beef Products claims that sales dropped to less than 2 million pounds a week, from about 5 million.

The defamation trial against ABC and correspondent Jim Avila started in June. BPI didn’t immediately respond to telephone messages requesting comment.

The actual damages BPI was seeking could have been as high as $1.9 billion, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC. BPI was also seeking “treble” damages, or triple the amount, as provided by South Dakota’s Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act, and punitive damages.

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