A Drake University expert says the billion-dollar lawsuit filed against ABC News and others by Beef Products Incorporated over the stories that called its finely textured beef product “pink slime” will break some new ground. Neil Hamilton is the director of the Agricultural Law Center at the Des Moines school.
“You never know how a case might come out, but it’s certainly going to be an uphill battle because there are a number of important First-Amendment issues and other issues as well as issues of interpretation of the South Dakota law they are filing it under. But I’m sure their attorneys believe they have a fighting chance,” Hamilton says.
The lawsuit was filed under a 1994 law that makes it illegal to defame a food product. Hamilton says proving the law was violated poses a challenge.
“Whether any of the information was false and also the question of what the defamation was, so there are a number of important issue,” Hamilton explains, “and many of these statutes have ever been interpreted in court.” The lawyer for B.P.I. says ABC News ran stories over a 30-day period that caused them to eventually have to close three of the plants that make the product, even though it was approved by the F.D.A. as safe.
Hamilton says proving the stories did the damage is the key. “Many of the news stories had that other side, but of course it came later in the stories and so I think there argument would be that the weight of what the stories were was to build that this was somehow and unsafe product,” Hamilton says.
B.P.I. is seeking $1.2-billion in the lawsuit. Hamilton says 13 states have this type of food product disparagement law, but there is very little history of the laws being used successfully in the courts to recover damages.