True beef

12/19/2013

Misinformation generates lasting negative fallout.

Misinformation generates lasting negative fallout.

As a lawsuit stemming from the now infamous "pink slime" news reports makes its way through the court system, the fallout of a related campaign of misinformation lingers here and beyond.

Earlier this week, a lawyer for ABC asked a judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit related to its coverage of a meat product known as lean, finely textured beef.

The product was manufactured at plants throughout the nation, including the Beef Products, Inc., facility in Holcomb.

At least 230 local workers lost their jobs when BPI closed its local operation in March 2012. Several hundred more BPI jobs were lost in Texas and Iowa plant closings.

Those unfortunate developments came in the wake of negative publicity spurred by ABC News and other coverage related to BPI production of the lean beef trimmings, dubbed "pink slime" by critics.

At issue was a process involving bits of beef being heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill such harmful bacteria as E. coli and salmonella. The meat filler, consumed for years, met all federal food safety standards.

But the process was inaccurately depicted, and a wave of misinformation powered by the television programs and social media ensued.

BPI filed a $1 billion-plus lawsuit against ABC and others involved in reports on the product, claiming they knowingly made false, defamatory and disparaging statements.

Any company damaged by misinformation should fight back. A win in court would be a welcome victory for facts and the truth over imagined threats and falsehoods.

Even if the lawsuit is thrown out, as ABC has requested, the case put a needed spotlight on just how damaging misinformation can become. More than a year after the initial stories on the lean bits of beef made by BPI, the South Dakota-based company reported losing 80 percent of its business as many schools and retailers pledged to stop using BPI products.

Consider it all an important reminder to consumers of how misguided reports can unjustly punish people, businesses and communities, as happened in Finney County and beyond when a safe BPI product was stuck with an unfair and inaccurate label.

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