DAKOTA DUNES, S.D. — Beef Products, Inc. filed a defamation lawsuit Sept. 13 against ABC News alleging the network’s news coverage misled consumers to believe the company’s product, lean finely textured beef, was unsafe. The company is seeking more than $1 billion in damages.
“For more than 30 years, our family has built and operated companies that are committed to providing consumers with wholesome, safe and nutritious lean beef,” said Eldon Roth, founder and chief executive officer for BPI. “We’ve created thousands of good jobs for Americans and our lean finely textured beef has made the leaner ground beef that consumers desire more affordable. The blatantly false and disparaging statements made about our lean beef have done more than hurt my family and our companies; they have jeopardized the future of our employees and their families.”
In the complaint filed in Circuit Court in Union County, S.D., BPI alleges ABC and others named in the lawsuit “knowingly made false, defamatory and disparaging statements regarding BPI and L.F.T.B. during a disinformation campaign this spring” even after the company provided the news station with information about L.F.T.B. and statements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and other food safety organizations saying that L.F.T.B. is safe and nutritious.
“As a result of the disinformation campaign, BPI sales declined from approximately 5 million lbs of L.F.T.B. per week to less than 2 million lbs per week, three BPI facilities closed and more than 700 employees lost their jobs,” BPI said in a statement.
BPI is seeking to recover damages for defamation, product and food disparagement, and tortious interference with business relationships.
“Through nearly 200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign, ABC and other individuals knowingly misled consumers into believing that L.F.T.B. was not beef and not safe for public consumption, which is completely false,” said Dan Webb, chairman, Winston & Strawn LLP. “BPI has filed suit because their business has been severely damaged by this conduct. As a result, we will be asking a jury to award BPI more than $1 billion in compensatory and statutory damages, plus punitive damages.”
ABC News, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co., denied the claims.
“The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously,” said Jeffrey W. Schneider, senior vice-president of ABC News.