Attorney: Settlement of lawsuit against ABC exceeds $177M

By: JAMES NORD, Associated Press

Updated:
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A legal settlement between ABC and a South Dakota meat producer in a defamation lawsuit over the network's reports on a beef product that critics dubbed "pink slime" exceeded $177 million, an attorney for the producer said Wednesday.

Disney, which owns ABC, disclosed a $177 million legal settlement charge in a filing with a government securities regulator this week that didn't specifically link it to South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. BPI attorney Dan Webb said that based on the disclosure, it appears Disney is funding $177 million of the settlement and insurers are "paying the rest."

"As Disney disclosed, $177 Million is not the total settlement amount," Webb said in a statement, which didn't give the full figure.

Disney reported in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that it's pursuing "additional insurance coverage for this matter." The company didn't immediately respond to an email requesting comment from The Associated Press.

BPI and ABC announced the settlement in June while the case was at trial. BPI could have been seeking damages as high as $1.9 billion, according to the SEC filing from Disney.

BPI sued in 2012, saying ABC's coverage of its lean, finely textured beef product misled consumers into believing the product is unsafe, is not beef and isn't nutritious.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Townsend said in a June statement that throughout the case the network maintained its reports accurately presented the facts and views of "knowledgeable people" about the product.

The coverage emphasized that the product at the time was present in 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets, but wasn't labeled.

After the reports aired, some grocery store chains said they would stop carrying ground beef that contained the product. BPI claimed in the 2012 complaint that sales declined from about 5 million pounds (2.3 million kilograms) per week to less than 2 million pounds (907,000 kilograms) per week.

Lean, finely textured beef can be added to ground beef to reduce the overall fat content. It's made from trimmings left after beef cattle are butchered. The meat is separated from the fat, and ammonia gas is applied to kill bacteria.

Former Department of Agriculture microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein named the product "pink slime" in a 2002 agency email. He was among several people who were removed from the lawsuit before trial, including ABC anchor Diane Sawyer, leaving just the network and correspondent Jim Avila as defendants.

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