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South Dakota Meat Producer Settles 'Pink Slime' Suit Against ABC News

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

What's in your hamburger, and what do you call the ingredients? That was the subject of a 2012 series by ABC News that drew a lawsuit from a meat processor called BPI, Beef Products Incorporated. That suit was settled today, as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: BPI makes a hamburger additive that's basically lean beef scraps that are sometimes sterilized with ammonia. Meat companies used to add it to hamburger routinely. BPI calls it lean, finely textured beef. Years ago, a microbiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture used another term for the product in a government email - pink slime. ABC followed with a series of reports alerting consumers about the additive and then chronicling the burger backlash.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Grocery stores pulled it off the shelves, and its makers closed 3 of its 4 plants for lack of demand. Unfair, say the meat producing states who claim it's safe and nutritious.

MORRIS: BPI sued ABC for defamation, and the case was heard in Elk Point, S.D., population 2,000.

ERIK CONNOLLY: We showed the jury every single stage of how we produce the product. And at no stage could this product accurately or fairly be described as pink slime.

MORRIS: Erik Connolly represents BPI, and he says ABC's reporting didn't just call his client's product pink slime but repeated the phrase more than a hundred times and included graphics rebranding what he says is a safe product as something yucky and scary.

CONNOLLY: Seven hundred men and women lost their jobs, and BPI hasn't been able to rebound from that yet.

MORRIS: The stories arguably had a broader effect on the meatpacking industry. Mike Shultz, a Kansas cattle rancher, says he thinks lean, finely textured beef is safe but doesn't fault ABC for reporting on it.

MIKE SHULTZ: If people want to know what they're eating, I don't see anything wrong with that.

MORRIS: In a statement, ABC said its reporting was accurate but decided to settle. The company could have faced a $5.7 billion verdict in the lawsuit. Neither side disclosed the terms of today's settlement. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOS DEF SONG, "MATHEMATICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.