Beef packing company sues ABC News for defamation
Beef Products Inc. is suing ABC News for defamation after the news channel ran a series exposing its sale of “pink slime” filler in ground beef sold to most major retailers and the federal school lunch program.
BPI claims the negative press tarnished their “good” name and caused them to lose more than a billion dollars in sales. The company has lost 80 percent of its business, closed three out of four of its processing plants, and laid-off hundreds of workers since ABC News first broke the story in March of 2012.
A former USDA scientist turned whistleblower explained how gray beef scraps – once used only in dog food – are separated from the fat, heated, gassed with ammonia and transformed into “pink slime.” Before ABC broke the news, pink slime – or lean, finely textured beef, as the industry calls it – was used as cheap filler in about 70 percent of the ground beef found in grocery stores.
Since then, schools and retailers all over the country – including McDonalds, Taco Bell and WalMart – have rejected beef made with pink-slime.
BPI argues its “lean, finely textured beef” is just that – beef, and nothing other than beef, and that ABC News mislead consumers into believing the product was unhealthy and unsafe. The company’s lawyers noted that the news network used the derogatory phrase “pink slime” 132 times. They are asking for $1.2 billion in damages.
ABC News attorneys argue that nothing in the network’s reports was untrue and that the meat packing company is attempting to silence free speech.
I couldn’t care less about ABC News or Beef Products Inc. In my opinion, they both provide inferior products that a true free market would have abandoned years ago. They’re both run by crony-capitalists, who used government subsidies and/or regulations to unfairly prop them up as industry leaders.
The real issue here is why the hell someone is suing someone else over name-calling? Isn’t that what defamation really is? According to Wikipedia, defamation is “the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation an individual, business, product, group, government, religion or nation.”
The problem with cases like these is whether a statement is true or false is totally subjective. For example, BPI essentially is arguing that it’s untrue that its product is “pink slime” or “gross.” Obviously, whether something is gross or not is open to interpretation.
And, as free individuals, each individual owns his interpretation, just as each individual owns himself and whatever words come out of his mouth. If I’m free, then I should be allowed to state my opinion, even if someone else thinks it’s false… or, even if it is false for that matter. If I don’t have the freedom to say whatever I want, I don’t own myself.
The Non Aggression Principle, which libertarians like myself subscribe to, says that no one should initiate or threaten to initiate violence against a person or his legitimately owned property. Criticizing someone – even if that criticism turns out not to be true – doesn’t threaten violence against him or his property.
No one stole anything
Now, BPI may claim to own their outstanding reputation and that all of the negative press essentially has stolen business from them. But a reputation is created by other persons’ opinions, and each person owns his own opinion.
We all are entitled to change our minds or opinions about anything at any given time, for any reason, and when we do, we haven’t stolen from anyone.
BPI’s owners can point to their shutdown factories, laid-off workers and loss in revenue and say it’s proof ABC News stole from them. The truth is, no one stole anything. Consumers chose, with their own free will, not to buy their product. There’s a difference between stealing and refusing to buy something.
People have the right to refuse whatever they want – goods, services, friendships, lovers, or, in this situation, pink slime. In a free world, where markets rule, no one would own the property (opinions) of other people.
Honesty is the best policy
What BPI executives should have done is build an open, honest relationship with their customers, while providing a superior product.
If they had, maybe customers wouldn’t have complained that their meat smelled like ammonia, and maybe it wouldn’t have tested positive for E. coli three times and salmonella 48 times.
Maybe their ex-employees wouldn’t have gone on record, like Kit Foshee did, saying – “Pink slime comes from cuts or fat that is most-highly susceptible to contamination during [the] slaughter process. Removing hide … that’s exactly where the fat is harvested from … when they centrifuge, they’re going to concentrate harmful bacteria.”
Maybe former USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein wouldn’t have coined the term “pink slime” to describe their “lean, finely textured beef.”
“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,” Zirnstein told ABC News.
If they had provided a top-quality product and been transparent about how it was produced, then maybe, just maybe, ABC News wouldn’t have sniffed out this story and they’d still be making an honest dollar.
Freedumb of speech
If the courts rule in BPI’s favor, they’re essentially saying people don’t have the right to criticize big business. Imagine what that would do to a media already wary of telling the truth. Imagine how hard it would be to get an honest, independent assessment of the safety and healthiness of your food.
If BPI wins, there’s a lot more at stake than “pink slime” in our meat. Without the freedom to tell the truth about what people are eating, the titans of industrialized food will solidify their cartel, and we might as well line up with the cattle for the slaughter.
Brad Jordan hosts a podcast called Food Riot Radio where this article first appeared. He and his co-host Sara Burrows work to expose how a collusion between government, big agriculture, big pharma and big food has determined what ends up on our plates and offer ideas for how to fight back.