| CHICAGO, April 5
CHICAGO, April 5 ABC Broadcasting has lost a
last-ditch bid before South Dakota’s highest court to avoid a
trial in a beef producer’s $5.7 billion defamation case over
reports about a product that critics call "pink slime."
The order signed on Monday by state Supreme Court Chief
Justice David Gilbertson denied ABC’s petition to appeal a
recent ruling letting plaintiff Beef Products Inc (BPI) take its
case to a jury.
In February, Judge Cheryle Gering of the Union County
Circuit Court in Elk Point, South Dakota, said ABC, a unit of
Walt Disney Co, and its reporter Jim Avila must defend
against claims that they damaged BPI by referring in a series of
reports to BPI’s “lean finely textured beef” product as "pink
Gering did not rule on the case's merits, nor did the
ABC declined on Wednesday to comment while BPI said in a
statement it looked forward to holding the defendants
The case is scheduled to go to trial on June 5 and could
last eight weeks.
Lean, finely textured beef is made from beef chunks,
including trimmings and exposed to tiny bursts of ammonium
hydroxide to kill bacteria.
At the time of the ABC News broadcasts, few Americans
realized the product was a mainstay of fast-food burgers, school
lunch tacos and homemade meatloaf.
BPI said ABC's reports in March and April 2012 implied that
the South Dakota-based company's product was not safe, not
nutritious and not even meat.
The network has called BPI's lawsuit an attempt to chill
media coverage of the industry and inhibit free speech.
BPI has claimed up to $1.9 billion of damages, which could
be tripled to $5.7 billion under South Dakota's Agricultural
Food Products Disparagement Act.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has called BPI's product
safe. But some retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc,
stopped selling ground beef containing it after the ABC reports.
Several other defendants were previously dismissed from the
case, including a former Agriculture Department microbiologist
said to have coined the term "pink slime" in a 2002 email.
The case is Beef Products Inc et al v. American Broadcasting
Cos et al, First Judicial Circuit Court of South Dakota, Union
County, No. 12-292.
(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter; Editing by Jonathan Stempel in
New York and Bill Trott)