Beef Products Incorporated today announced it has filed a $1.2-billion lawsuit against ABC News and the American Broadcasting Company for “knowingly and intentionally publishing false and disparaging statements” regarding BPI’s product known as “lean finely textured beef.”

The 250 page lawsuit was filed in Union County District Court in South Dakota Thursday morning. BPI lawyer, Dan Webb of the Winstrom and Strawn firm, says ABC News launched a long-term sustained vicious attack of misinformation against the company.

“This disinformation campaign that extended over about a 30-day time period, among other things, consisted of over 200 false and misleading, defamatory and disparaging statements,” Webb said in a news conference today. Webb says the lawsuit takes issue with the term “pink slime” — which is how many of the news reports referred to the BPI product.

“A-B-C used that term ‘pink slime’ to refer to my client’s product over 130 times,” Webb said. “I will put experts on the witness stand that will tell this jury there is no worse pejorative or derogatory term that you could every use to refer to any food product.”

Webb said he will tell the jury that 30-years of hard work and production of a good product were decimated in the 30 days of ABC’s reports. “Our sales went down immediately 80-percent. Eighty-percent lost business because of what ABC did to this company,” Webb said.

“The people in this room had to fly around this country to three of their manufacturing facilities and call their employees into a room, and stand up and explain to 700 of them, we can’t employ you any longer.”

BPI closed its plant in Waterloo Iowa and two others in Texas and Kansas in the wake of the controversy. The BPI factory in Waterloo had 220 employees before it closed. The company estimates it lost $400-million in profits — so they are asking for triple damages under South Dakota’s food disparagement statute — as well as additional punitive damages.

A statement from ABC News says the lawsuit is without merit.

By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City

Here is a related story on Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s visit to the BPI plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska.