U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says he hasn’t had a chance yet to closely look over the lawsuit a meat processor has filed against a media giant and the former USDA employee who coined the phrase “pink slime.”
Beef Products Incorporated filed a $1.2-billion lawsuit against ABC News and others for “knowingly and intentionally” broadcasting “false” statements about the company’s “lean, finely-textured beef.”
“I’ve not had a chance to review anything about that lawsuit,” Secretary Vilsack says. “I certainly understand the frustration that the company had and, obviously, they made the decision (to sue) and I’m sure it’ll be vigorously defended and we’ll see what happens.”
BPI saw sales of its lean, finely textured beef plummet after a series of stories about the product aired earlier this year and the company closed three plants in Iowa, Texas and Kansas in May, eliminating 700 jobs.
The only plant it kept open for making the product is in South Sioux City, Nebraska.
Vilsack says the product has endured heavy criticism but it’s still being served in some schools.
“We will continue to maintain the safety of that product,” Vilsack said. “We’ll continue to maintain, as we have, that it’s got less fat content and it’s less expensive and we’ll continue to provide it as an option for school districts in their purchasing decisions, but we obviously can’t compel or mandate people to buy a certain product, nor will grocers mandate or compel people to buy a particular product.”
School districts in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota are now the only schools in the country that serve ground beef with the company’s lean beef additive.
A lawyer for BPI says the company’s sales plummeted 80 percent after all the stories this spring about lean, finely-textured beef. The company’s lawsuit was filed in South Dakota, which has a “food disparagement” law on the books.
An ABC vice president said the network will “vigorously” contest the lawsuit.