“Pink Slime” Case Illustrates Legal Protection Against Defamation

Most individuals and organizations in Miami and beyond have a passing understanding of their rights and responsibilities regarding what they can and cannot say about others, and what can and cannot be said about them, they’re familiar with the terms: “Defamation.” “Liability.” “First Amendment rights.” “Free speech.” “Anticompetitive practices.” “The marketplace of ideas.”

Yet, the lines can seem blurred between free speech, liability, and the like when there is a possible defamation case at hand. Do potentially defaming statements truly equal defamation or are they perhaps merely offensive? Did damages occur and, if so, what are their value? And how can potential legal issues be resolved?

A recent case covered by the Miami Herald demonstrates that, despite a vigorous defense, potentially defaming statements based on questionable assertions can cause real damage and lead to potentially high-value legal outcomes.

In 2012, ABC broadcast a story questioning the safety of the beef product “lean, finely textured beef,” also known as  “pink slime”, which is a beef product made with the trimmings left over when a cow is butchered. In the broadcast, ABC:

  • Brought attention to the then little-known and derogatory term “pink slime”
  • Claimed that lean, finely textured beef is “not meat” but, rather, “filler”
  • Implied that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not a credible source to certify that lean, finely textured beef is safe because it “overruled scientists” when approving the food’s use
  • Named only one producer of lean, finely textured beef- that producer was Beef Products Inc.

Following the ABC story, Beef Products Inc.’s sales plummeted, leading to the closing of three production plants, the laying off of 700 workers and reduced profits. In response, Beef Products Inc. sued ABC for $1.2 billion. ABC claimed, in response to the lawsuit, that it “never quoted critics saying the product is unsafe,” that the term “pink slime” is not incorrect and that Beef Products Inc. “doesn’t get to choose ABC’s words.” Despite ABC’s defense, the judge handling the case refused to throw out the case, stating that ABC wasn’t protected against liability by claiming in its news reports that lean, finely textured beef is beef and that it is safe and nutritious. Though the case has not yet concluded, Beef Products Inc. may potentially recover significant compensation for its losses.

As this case illustrates, laws against defamation have the ability to offer real protection. If you or your organization has suffered losses from a damaging statement made by another party, or you suspect that an individual or entity has made defaming statements about you, protect your rights and bottom line by obtaining sound legal advice. The attorneys of Manos Alwine PL in Miami have extensive civil litigation experience, including experience successfully handling defamation claims, and can be contacted at 305-341-3100.