Four years ago when BPI filed suit against ABC for calling its processed bovine leavings the accurately descriptive term “pink slime,” the big food corporations could get area governors to shove their meatish products down their gullets to show their support for “lean finely textured beef,” the industry’s preferred marketing term for its gruesome fixins.
Now “pink slime” and ABC go on trial today in Elk Point in an America where the man occupying the White House shouts “Fake news!” at any negative press and has yet to revoke his threat to rewrite the First Amendment to allow himself to sue reporters for doing their job. BPI seeks to punish ABC for describing its product in an America where a Russian bank is suing BuzzFeed for publishing documents suggesting Russian influence in the election of that man in the White House. BPI is trying to wring $1.9 billion in damages from ABC in an America where a Congressional candidate physically assaults a reporter who asks politically inconvenient questions, wins election the next day, and “apologizes” for his criminal action to laughter and excuse-making that contends assaulting journalists is just a natural reaction that shows a guy is human.
South Dakota has a law prohibiting “disparagement of agricultural food products” (formally, SDCL 20-10A, enacted in 1994). The statute defines “disparagement” as “dissemination in any manner to the public of any information that the disseminator knows to be false and that states or implies that an agricultural food product is not safe for consumption by the public or that generally accepted agricultural and management practices make agricultural food products unsafe for consumption by the public.”
Thing is, ABC never disseminated false information. The “pink slime” moniker came from a former USDA microbiologist who accurately described how the stuff was made and why it’s pink:
Gerald Zirnstein, the former USDA microbiologist who first used the term “pink slime” and recommended against its inclusion in ground beef, said the first problem is that the BPI process begins with warming the meat scraps just enough so they don’t cook but are easier to separate in a centrifuge.
“At that temperature, you increase the level of pathogens and the level of spoilage bacteria,” Zirnstein told ABC News. “In order to turn this into a product they can potentially sell as ‘meat,’ and that’s, [in] quotations, ‘meat,’ they add ammonia.”
“Ammonia does two things most people don’t realize,” Zirnstein said. “In high levels, it does more than just kill the … pathogens. It also fixes the color of the meat. So the red meat stays pink.”
Zirnstein said that is why he coined the phrase, “pink slime.”
“If that ammonia wasn’t there, if it wasn’t added to kill the bacteria, it would also come in as a gray product and you’d have gray slime,” he said. “Gray slime!”
The former USDA scientist said that’s his main complaint and the reason he recommended against the product’s use.
“Because the ammonia fixes the color into a pink color, it can, quote, ‘pass’ as red meat, but it’s a low-quality product going into the ground beef. The public’s not aware of it, hasn’t been for years. It’s not their fault. Nobody told them” [Jim Avila, “Beef Products Inc. Comeback: It’s Not ‘Pink Slime’; It’s Safe, Nutritious and ‘It’s Beef’,” ABC News, 2012.03.27].
If BPI stands any chance of prevailing, it will have to convince a jury that the statements above are not factual. The defense will need to make sure that the jurors selected from a county that went 67% for Trump seven months ago listen closely to the facts and don’t view this trial as their chance to body-slam the liberal media.
p.s.: South Dakota’s ag disparagement law imposes no penalties on food processors for making patently false claims, as BPI’s Jeff Carlson did in 2012 when he responded to ABC by saying, “‘Pink slime’ doesn’t exist…. ‘Pink slime’ never existed in any way, shape, or form.”