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ABC News settles 'pink slime' defamation case

ABC News settles 'pink slime' defamation case
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ABC News on Wednesday settled with the maker of what critics called "pink slime," a processed-meat product.

Terms of the settlement were not made public and came during the middle of a jury trial that was set to go on for months longer.

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South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. sued ABC News, anchor Diane Sawyer and reporter Jim Avila five years ago for $1.9 billion. The legal action was initiated following several stories about its lean, finely textured beef product (LFTB), which detractors and media began calling "pink slime" after the reports ran.

Claims against Diane Sawyer, a former "World News Tonight" anchor, were dismissed before the start of the jury trial that began earlier this month.

A food-libel law in the state of South Dakota that calls for triple damages against those found guilty of having knowingly misled consumers about the safety of a food product meant the news organization was facing the possibility of $6 billion in damages.

Beef Products Inc. said the legal action was "necessary to begin rectifying the harm" the company suffered.

"While this has not been an easy road to travel, it was necessary to begin rectifying the harm we suffered as a result of what we believed to be biased and baseless reporting in 2012," a spokesman for the company said.

"Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about lean finely textured beef: it is beef, and is safe, wholesome, and nutritious."

ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company and denied that it had reported anything about the beef that was intentionally misleading.

"Throughout this case, we have maintained that our reports accurately presented the facts and views of knowledgeable people about this product, " ABC said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon.

"Although we have concluded that continued litigation of this case is not in the company's interests, we remain committed to the vigorous pursuit of truth and the consumer's right to know about the products they purchase," according to ABC.

In 2012, a Maine Democrat pressed the Obama administration to ban the so-called "pink slime" in school cafeterias.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) said at the time the product was "gross" and unfit for consumption by school children.

Both the meat industry and the Department of Agriculture stated in 2012 after Pingree raised her concerns that the product was safe for human consumption, including in the nation's schools.

But the negative attention led a number of fast-food chains, including McDonald's and Burger King, to stop buying the product.