SNEAK PEEK: BPI is mounting a comeback

Meat & Poultry, Nov. 30, 2017 - by Bernard Shire

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Five years ago, when officials with Dakota Dunes, South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. (BPI) filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News over its misleading news coverage of what it called, “pink slime,” legal experts recognized that the meat processing firm would face a steep climb, including efforts to rebuild its public image.

As part of its lawsuit, BPI claimed the TV network damaged the company and its image by leading consumers to believe the product – lean, finely textured beef (LFTB) – was unsafe.

Five years later, at the end of June this year, BPI officials happily walked out of court halfway through the defamation trial with an undisclosed, large monetary settlement. Many legal observers see it as a victory for the meat processing company and a defeat for ABC News because its parent company, Walt Disney Co. agreed to pay the substantial settlement.

Eldon and Regina Roth, owners of Beef Products Inc., say the agreement settling the defamation lawsuit provides the company with a strong foundation on which to grow the business in the coming years, while allowing the company to focus on achieving its vision created by the Roth family.

In an interview with MEAT+POULTRY, Eldon Roth talks about the company’s plans moving forward into 2018. “We will remain focused on rebuilding our core business, working with our long-term supply and customer base, and continuing the work to reestablish ground beef and other markets,” Roth says.  “At the same time, we are moving forward with new product development, and will be very focused on growing the Dos Rios taco meat/cooked meat line of business, as well as whole-muscle enhancement processes. It will be an exciting time for us, as we get to look forward instead of back.”

Roth is also hopeful the lawsuit and trial will have a positive effect on the American meat industry. “We certainly hope the ABC lawsuit will result in a more responsible approach by journalists when dealing with subject matter like this,” Roth says. “Investigating sources has to be an important part of the story versus just those fitting an agenda. This, and other recent successful defamation actions, may result in journalists taking the time to fully investigate their stories and offer the presentation of fair and balanced reporting,” he says.

Terms of the financial settlement between BPI and Walt Disney Co., were not disclosed as part of the agreement. Yet when the settlement was announced a month into what had looked like an eight-week trial, BPI officials and their lawyers seemed happy with the outcome.

“We are extraordinarily pleased with this settlement,” Chicago-based BPI lawyer Dan Webb said at the time, just outside the Union County Courthouse in Elk Point, South Dakota. BPI and the Roth family also issued a statement saying, “While this was not an easy road to travel, it was necessary to begin rectifying the harm we suffered as a result of what we believed to be biased and baseless reporting. Through this process, we have again established what we all know to be true about lean finely textured beef. It is beef, and it is safe, wholesome and nutritious.”

Silver lining

In September, the Roths and BPI announced the creation of a $10 million BPI Family Support Fund to provide relief to former company employees who were laid off because of ABC News’ defamation of the company and its LFTB product. In a letter mailed to all former BPI employees in the affected work communities, Eldon Roth wrote: “having successfully resolved this matter, we can refocus on rebuilding BPI and reconnecting with you.”