Breaking: BPI Sues ABC News For $1.2 Billion Over “Pink Slime” Coverage

by Bettina Elias Siegel on September 13, 2012

Beef Products Inc., maker of lean, finely textured beef (aka LFTB and commonly referred to as “pink slime”) has announced this morning that it is filing a state court defamation lawsuit against ABC News arising out of the network’s coverage of the product this past spring.   The suit seeks $1.2 billion dollars in actual and punitive damages.

At a press conference which is still underway as of this writing, BPI’s lead attorney alleges that ABC News made roughly two hundred false and misleading statements about the product and that the network “improperly interfered” with the relationships between BPI and its customers.

ABC’s response was short and to the point:

Statement from Jeffrey W. Schneider, Senior Vice President, ABC News:

“The lawsuit is without merit. We will contest it vigorously.”

Here’s the take of leading food safety lawyer Bill Marler:

I just do not get the liability. I just do not see it.

On damages – IMHO, most have been self-inflicted by BPI. I was in the BPI plant in 2009 and talked to them about the coming NYT story and they should be transparent.

Legal commentator Popehat looks forward to the lawsuit and its First Amendment implications.

I’ll share updates regarding the litigation as warranted.

Because news of this lawsuit is likely to stir the passions of LFTB supporters, before I sign off I’d like to remind everyone of my stringent comments policy.  Sadly, this reminder is necessary in light of the profane and sometimes overtly antisemitic comments which LFTB supporters have regularly attempted to post on this blog over the last several months.  Please be aware that all such comments will be automatically deleted at my discretion and the commenter’s IP address will be placed permanently in my spam folder.  Thank you.

[Ed. Update 9/13/12 11:15 CST:  Here is the actual complaint.  In addition to ABC News, other named defendants include the two USDA microbiologists and the former BPI employee who appeared on ABC’s reports regarding LFTB.]

 

 

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{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Truth Seeker September 13, 2012 at 10:43 am

ABC, Jamie Oliver and Bettina Siegal all have spread untruths about LFTB and BPI. None of them did any research to get to the facts. Sadly BPI did not name Mr. Oliver or Ms. Siegal in the lawsuit.

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heartsmart September 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I find it very interesting that when people try to do good by exposing the truth, THEY are the ones who seem to be in the wrong. BPI was in the wrong for not telling consumers what was in their food, pure and simple. We have a right to know what we are eating. So thank you to Jamie Oliver, ABC news and Bettina for helping to get the important information out there.

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Nancy Huehnergarth September 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Bettina said nothing about LFTB that wasn’t true and scrupulously sourced. She also stated her opinions, which are protected by the First Amendment — the same amendment that gives you the right to state your opinions in your post.

If BPI had been up front and truthful about its product from the beginning, none of this would have ever happened. Stop blaming Bettina and the media. Please take a good, hard, long look at how a lack of transparency and an industry shrouded in secrecy caused its own demise.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 7:53 am

Bettina said BPI’s LFTB was pink slime – how is THAT the TRUTH? BPI’s customers knew what they were buying; THEY are the ones who failed to label THEIR product as having BPI LFTB. How is that BPI’s fault?

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Nancy Huehnergarth September 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Phyllis, BPI spent huge sums of money lobbying to ensure that LFTB did not have to be labeled. Now you want to blame the lack of labeling on grocery chains? BPI wanted it unlabeled and they got their way. So the only ones to blame are themselves.

Bettina didn’t come up with the term pink slime. That name came from a USDA scientist in 2002. LFTB has been described as “pink slime” in numerous articles starting around 2009 — after documents from the USDA were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Every newspaper, TV report, blog, radio report, etc. mentioned the term pink slime. So to aim your fury at one person, Bettina, for using the term “pink slime” in her petition, doesn’t really make sense. If she had never launched her petition, the term “pink slime” would have still been all over the media.

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Phyllis September 16, 2012 at 6:52 am

Nancy – (1) LFTB has ALWAYS been labelled. I used to work for the company and saw the cartons of finished product which clearly had the label “BPI Lean Finely Textured Beef” on them; I don’t know where you got your info on the large sums of money etc etc. (2) I didn’t say Bettina came up with the term; I said she used the term in her petition. And, had ABC News in particular, not used the erroneous term “pink slime” so many many times in their “coverage” of LFTB, IN MY OPINION, it would NOT have been “all over the media.” Just sayin…

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Nancy Huehnergarth September 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Phyllis, we’re talking about two different things. You’re talking about BPI’s direct customers who purchase LFTB and mix it into their ground beef. Those companies would be corporations like Cargill, the large grocery store chains, etc. Remember, BPI never sold directly to the consumer — you and me!

It’s absolute fact that BPI lobbied heavily (and lobbying is expensive!) to ensure that the end user never would know that ammonia-treated LFTB was in their ground beef. The end user, of course, is the consumer, who purchases ground beef at the supermarket.

Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article which talks about how BPI lobbied the USDA hard , hiring one of the meat industry’s top lawyers and lobbyists: “Represented by Dennis R. Johnson, a top lawyer and lobbyist for the meat industry, Beef Products prevailed on the question of whether ammonia should be listed as an ingredient….” Here is the link to the entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/31/us/31meat.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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mommm!!! September 13, 2012 at 10:47 am

Uuumm….it’s NEWS. News stations report news. That’s their job. This reminds me of when the beef industry dragged Oprah to court. They lost then, too. And while I’m at it, it’s laughable to me that they can poison Americans and then get mad when Americans decide they don’t want that after they got busted not labeling it for what it is. AND, it wouldn’t have been news if McyDs hadn’t announced suddenly and seemingly out of left field that it was no longer going to use the material in their burgers.

I’m not opposed to them making the product. I just want to know which products contain the offensive material so I don’t buy it by accident at the grocery store. It’s not complicated.

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EdT. September 13, 2012 at 3:17 pm

What made it news for me were two items:

1) The announcement that LFTB would be included in the product available for purchase under the school lunch program;
2) The CEO of BPI, when asked about the fact that LFTB was already in 70% of the ground beef on store shelves (a surprise in itself), made a statement to the effect that his goal was to get it in 100% of the ground beef sold. This last one was the straw that broke THIS camel’s back, as it indicated a willingness to take control – and choice – over what I ate away from me. NOT ACCEPTABLE.

(I am intrigued by the fact that BPI isn’t suing NewsCorp, whose story in The Daily was what twigged Bettina to the fact that LFTB was still in ground beef sold to school cafeterias, despite earlier reports to the contrary.)

~EdT.

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mommm!!! September 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

It will be interesting to watch.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 1:51 pm

It’s not poison.

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EdT. September 16, 2012 at 8:06 am

I didn’t say it was poison. I said that I found the statement of BPI’s owner that BPI’s goal was to take away my right to choose not to have LFTB in my ground beef, unacceptable.

~EdT.

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doug September 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Don’t you think Ford’s goal is to have everyone drive a Ford, Microsoft’s goal is to have everyone use Windows, and the corner hardware store’s goal is to have everyone in town buy their hardware from them? You’re sounding a little paranoid there EdT.

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Freddie September 17, 2012 at 9:09 am

EdT’s goal obviously is to have everyone think the way he wants them to think. Unacceptable.

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Phyllis September 28, 2012 at 7:49 am

EdT, I know you didn’t say it was poison – Mommm!!! said so “And while I’m at it, it’s laughable to me that they can poison Americans and then get mad when Americans decide they don’t want that after they got busted not labeling it for what it is.”

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Phyllis September 16, 2012 at 7:15 am

uhm, just what IS offensive about Lean Finely Textured Beef? It’s produced from 100% beef trimmings. The chemical added to it in the process of making it is used in such small amounts that it’s not dangerous for human consumption. After all, if it were dangerous, do you really think the USDA and FDA would have approved it’s use? (I’m talking about ammonium hydroxide.)

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Freddie September 17, 2012 at 9:15 am

The problem, Phyllis, is LFTB is produced in a terrible awful factory by professionals who aim to make a dirty filthy profit selling affordable modern wholesome food to hopelessly ignorant customers in open defiance of the crucially important opinions of effete foodies. That’s the problem. Complete and utter destruction of our modern food system is the only acceptable solution. Your immediate attention to abruptly coming around to our way of thinking will be appreciated, or else.

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

Freddie: Your snide sarcasm isn’t welcome here, but your opinions always are. Please adhere to my comments policy or future comments will not appear. Thank you.

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Phyllis September 28, 2012 at 7:46 am

Thank you Bettina…. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading Freddie’s opinion.

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Dale Davidson September 13, 2012 at 11:22 am

We all need to examine what we eat. It’s sad so many people lost jobs over this. But we still needed to know what was there all along. Bettina, you helped us all stop and take a look.
It’s a process in our free-enterprise system. Fortunately we have a choice about the foods we buy and should be able to trust that what we buy is what the package says it is. Ultimately we are challenged to know what we are eating. Some folks just don’t think they should have to.

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mommm!!! September 14, 2012 at 9:07 am

Actually, some interesting studies are being done in that area and some alarming facts are coming out (I just read this yesterday) that is linking junk food to not only diabetes but the long term effects are being tied to loss of brain function namely earlier onsets of Alzheimers among other things.

Also, we have less choices than you might think. Most processed products are actually the same 3 or 4 ingredients just rearranged and flavored differently. It FEELS like we have choices because of the vast array of what SEEMS like different products on the shelf and that’s no accident.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 7:54 am

LFTB is NOT junk food….. just sayin’….

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mommm!!! September 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

Darling, when you try to cleanse antibiotic resistant laden feces from hundreds of different animals off a ground product made from fatty trim by dousing it in ammonia it has entered junk status. When the majority of that product is piped into fast food restaurants for fast food burgers then it has entered junk status. When Americans are so disgusted (and remember that Americans eat of a lot of crap via junk food) that THEY don’t even want to eat it to the point of signing petitions over it, then trust me, it has entered junk status.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Darling, where did YOU get your info that LFTB is “antibiotic resistant laden feces from hundreds of different animals off a ground product made from fatty trim by dousing it in ammonia it has entered junk status”? Surely, NOT from the NEWS MEDIA? Since when is 95-97% lean considered “junk food”? Potato chips, candy bars, gum are examples of junk food; lean beef is not (in my opinion). The petition wasn’t over junk foods, it was related to consumers wanting to know what was in the food served at school lunches and giving us a choice to have our kids eat it or not.

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EdT. September 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

They’re also suing the microbiologists? Oh, what I would give to be on THAT jury! (Sorry, BPI, scientists giving their scientific opinion is NOT “actionable”. Now, pay their legal fees!)

Popehat should make it entertaining, as well as informative. Maybe The Oatmeal will also have something to say!

~EdT.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 7:55 am

Scientists are FACTUAL not OPINIONATED.

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EdT. September 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

The scientists I know, are both. They present conclusions (opinion) based on evidence (facts.) In the case of LFTB, it appears that those conclusions were overridden by political appointees (bull[CENSORED]).

~EdT.

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Kami Balmforth September 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

LFTB has supporters?

While it’s unfortunate that people did lost their employment, it is also unfortunate that people are not required to tell the truth about what is in their product. Two sides to every story I suppose, but I feel better knowing, as now I’m not ingesting suprise chemicals or anything else they feel the need to put into my food without my knowledge.

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mommm!!! September 13, 2012 at 10:01 pm

The beef industry isn’t the only food producer that puts little surprises in your food. Surprise! The rule of thumb is that if it’s a processed product, you can bet your booty there are surprises not specified on the label like one of my favorites usually named as “natural flavoring” which could be a host of nasty surprises like a secretion they extract from beaver anuses. I’m not joking, I couldn’t make this stuff up. But who would by crackers with beaver anus extract? I mean really.

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doug September 14, 2012 at 12:42 am

And honey is bee vomit. And the casing on your sausage is pig intestine. And Jello is bone extract. And most plants get at least some of their nutrients from animal feces. And blah, blah, blah. All very titillating but at the end of the day, who cares? If it tastes good and it’s nutritious why wouldn’t you eat it?

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mommm!!! September 14, 2012 at 8:45 am

Comparing honey to castoreum is a huge stretch. Also, I don’t eat jello or sausage that comes in casing. And I REALLY don’t think that the process of how nitrogen is moved around on this planet is quite the same as harvesting anal glands from a beaver, curing them, and then adding them to processed foods and calling it “natural flavoring”. That’s like selling the notion that rain occurs naturally and so does urine so it should be ok to pee in my wheaties and call it “natural flavoring”.
This is just like BPI…if it’s such a non issue to eat it, then why not just call it what it is on the labeling? Because ammonia sprayed, feces covered trim, is not what *I* would call ground beef. I also don’t consider beaver booty juice to be even remotely close to anything I would call “natural flavoring”. Oddly, I’ve never seen a beaver and thought to myself, “Wow I could sure go for some of that beaver anal gland right about now.” Get a grip.

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heartsmart September 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

I agree Mommm!!! I really do not understand why so many people feel the need to deceive the public. As Mommm!!! states if the companies think it is an OK ingredient to use, then there would not be this hesitency to put it on a label, or better yet..explain what it is..so many of the ingredients cannot even be pronounced! Not allowing people to know what is in their foods is just wrong. We have a right to make our own decisions as to whether we want to ingest it….

One more thing…tasting good and nutritious is not always synonomous which is part of the problem…you need to know what you are eating!

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mommm!!! September 14, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I second your notion about tasting good and nutritious being synonymous, although I find commercial processed foods to taste chemical~y to me now that I haven’t eaten them for years.

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Kami September 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

No worries, all processed foods have been removed from my house. Which wasn’t easy and came with a lot of kicking and screaming. :)

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mommm!!! September 14, 2012 at 7:56 pm

I hear that gurrrllll!!! I had to move mountains to rid my house of it and I had to learn how to shop all over again.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 7:58 am

Flavored with beaver anus extract? Now, really? do you have a link for that?

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mommm!!! September 15, 2012 at 10:49 am

Phyllis dear, you are welcome to google “natural flavors and beaver anus” yourself and there will be a plethora of articles on it for you to peruse. Do your own work.

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 15, 2012 at 11:08 am

Mommmm!!! Please watch your tone — I ask readers to address each other respectfully. Thank you.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Thank you, Bettina.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I have; you’re using “beaver anus” as the phrase for the scientific name “castoreum”. This is NOT frm the anus, perse, of the beaver, but rather “it is a bitter, orange-brown, odoriferous, oily secretion, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of beavers. The discharge of the castor sac is combined with the beaver’s urine, and used during scent marking of territory. Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail.”

Interesting reading, momm!! (thank goodness you’re not MY Mom) but I still don’t get why you think that Lean Finely Textured Beef which is made from beef trimmings from USDA approved beef carcasses is the same as beaver anus….. hmmm…

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 7:56 am

Yes, LFTB has supporters.

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Kami Balmforth September 13, 2012 at 12:10 pm

*did lose

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Chelsea September 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Well, I’m rooting for BPI to win. Bettina and the ABC crew gave them a pretty deep shafting for no good reason. I also hope former employees of BPI join in a class action suit to wring damages out of Bettina, Jamie Oliver and maybe Mark Bittman. Those unfortunate families plunged out of work deserve some relief — they probably didn’t get away on 2 weeks of vacation this year like Bettina did.

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Kami September 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

Nobody is debating that the people that BPI employed got the shaft. Perhaps they should have thought of that before they put that garbage in our beef and then lied about it. No?

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Kami, LFTB is NOT garbage. No one lied about it, either. BPI’s customers knew what they were purchasing.

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm

Phyllis: There is a critical distinction between BPIs customers and the supermarket consumer. The latter was given no information alerting him or her to the presence of LFTB in ground beef.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I agree, Bettina. BPI’s customers knew what they were buying (LFTB: 95-97% lean protein) and chose not to include it in their labelling. I wonder why?

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EdT. September 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

It might have something to do with the fact that, thanks to some intense lobbying effort from the beef processing industry, the USDA exempted LFTB (up to 15%) from having to be included on the label. Just saying.

~EdT.

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Phyllis September 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Thank you, Chelsea. I feel the same way you do. It scares me that a news agency, which is supposed to report the news ONLY, has as much power as ABC apparently did, to so drastically change the public’s perception. And it scares me that we, the public, would actually BELIEVE what media celebrities (like Jamie Oliver) say about ANYTHING! Since when are reporters and/or celebrities experts? hmmm….

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Mark September 13, 2012 at 4:48 pm

What’s next, will the Limburger cheese industry start suing people because no one wants to eat their stinky cheese anymore?

Seriously – this lawsuit has no merit. No one wants to consume this stuff because we now know how it is made and what it consists of.

Hey BPI – try making a product that people want to actually eat and feed their kids. Adapt. You don’t have a right to sell crap no one wants.

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Marc Hutton September 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

No matter what BPI says “pink slime” and I choose to use this term and IT IS my choice, is not the same thing as ground beef. I am a PhD chemist and an avid foodie I choose not to have food that is treated with high levels of Ammonium Hydroxide for me or my daughter. I choose not to have any food that is the product of heavy chemical treatment or processing of any kind for many different reaons but it basically comes down to the fact that treatment and/or processing changes the makeup of the food both chemically and physically or there would be no reason or doing I in the first place. Food is best fresh regardless. I have been following The Lunch Tray’s coverage of this issue since the begining. You have done a great job and I look forward to reading hat you have to say as this law suit proceeds.

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pink slimer September 14, 2012 at 8:03 am

they should of just dyed it green and sold it to kids as a “fun” food , think of all the fun packaging, shaped like slugs, or worms, like creepy crawlers, only more creepy

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

If you’ve posted a comment and don’t see it appear after a reasonable time, the comment is in violation of The Lunch Tray’s comments policy. No comment is ever censored for expressing an opposing view; comments which include personal attacks, ugly language (or even just a needling, snide tone) will always be censored. Some might object to this moderation policy as too strict, but I am deeply committed to keeping TLT a pleasant, safe space for all. If I’m particularly offended by and/or receive several comments in violation of the policy from a single commenter, all future comments originating from that IP address will automatically be placed in my blog’s spam filter and I won’t see them for moderation.

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Truth Seeker September 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

- LFTB is 100% beef. One hundred percent.
– LFTB is a USDA approved product that is sanitized and made safer with a minuscule amount of ammonium hydroxide mist.
– Ammonium hydroxide is present in most foods – cheese, cereal, beer, bread, even fruits and veggies. Most chocolate candy bars have more than LFTB.
– LFTB is 94-97% lean. Meaning that when it is used, the product is lower in fat and is healthier than a 80% or 85% lean product.
– The photo that was splashed across every TV station and newspaper of pink oozy stuff coming out of a machine is not representative of LFTB. It wasn’t even beef.

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kdj September 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm

This BPI civil lawsuit is a pathetic, desperate public-relations ploy with no hope of winning.

BPI totally lost the national public-relations war 6 months ago.
Consumers overwhelmingly rejected BPI’s disgusting LFTB product when the truth about it finally leaked out publicly.
Way too late, false, and shameless for BPI to claim victim hood now.

BPI whining in some hayseed South Dakota circuit court is delusional; it can’t possibly win on the facts, the law, or national public opinion. It should move on and find an honest line of work for itself and its former employees.

Such defamation lawsuits rarely win a court judgment… and are usually dismissed before trial or settled out of court. ABC News (and its parent mega-corporation Disney) can afford a competent legal defense against such a frivolous lawsuit. BPI would have to provide indisputable evidence that ABC News knowingly reported false or unreliable information with intent to defame BPI– very difficult to do in general, and especially in this case when the defendants did no such thing.

South Dakota is one of 13 states whose politicians enacted silly “Food-Disparagement” laws, but actual lawsuits under these nonsense laws are very rare.
(Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas have such food-disparagement laws)

Oprah Winfrey was sued in 1998 by a group of Texas cattle ranchers for a TV show where she swore off eating hamburgers because of mad-cow disease. The Texas law forbids ‘false and disparaging remarks about agricultural products’. But even a jury in Texas cattle-country could see through this legal nonsense — and decided firmly against the local cattle-ranchers and for Oprah.

BPI will lose, as they deserve. Very few will notice or care.

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doug September 18, 2012 at 6:35 pm

6 months ago there was no public relations war. There was, however a Pearl Harbor style attack by ABC. The fact that you find LFBT “disgusting” and feel that making it is not honest work illustrates how much effect ABC’s lies (even after they knew the truth) have had. Here’s hoping David can prevail against Goliath.

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EdT. September 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Doug – I don’t recall reading anything here about feeling that making LFTB is not “honest work”. In fact, I would call that a red herring – there are many things which provide honest work, that I have no intention of buying/patronizing. I won’t be buying a private jet, nor a yacht; and I plan never to spend time inside a prison or jail, thanks. I also hope never to see a thermonuclear explosion in real life.

~EdT.

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doug September 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm

“It (BPI) should move on and find an honest line of work for itself and its former employees.” Quote from kdj above.

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Phyllis September 19, 2012 at 7:03 am

kdj – that’s YOUR opinion, not MINE!

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SuperMom101 September 20, 2012 at 6:23 am

After being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer at the age of 38 (thankfully over 12 years ago now) I became an avid label reader, better educated consumer about America and her food supply and changed what’s on our plates.

Feels like some days I need a PhD in chemistry to really know what’s going on: bottle water is “enhanced with minerals for a pure, fresh taste” and what’s “natural” about many “natural flavorings”, food dyes, etc.

Please keep up the great work – we’re most definitely listening, learning and making better informed decisions for ourselves and families.

Thank you!

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