BPI Calls Professors To The Stand

Jun 9, 2017

The Union County Courthouse in Elk Point.
Credit Jeremy Ludemann / SDPB

On Tuesday, jurors in the defamation case between Beef Products Incorporated and ABC News saw the network news reports that led to the lawsuit.

The Dakota Dunes-based company claims reports in 2012 by ABC and correspondent Jim Avila  defamed its lean, finely textured beef product by calling it 'pink slime.'

Professor Ran Kivetz teaches marketing at Columbia University's Business School. He conducted surveys on the network's coverage. Kivetz says one of his surveys asked what people took away from ABC's March 7th, 2012 report:

"The percentage of the participants, out of 400 participants in my survey, the percentage of them who are taking away these messages - these implications from the ABC News March 7th broadcast. So, for example, 30 percent are taking away the perception from the broadcast that LFTB [lean, finely textured, beef] is fake beef, [that] it's not beef. 36 percent are taking away the implication that it's a filler."

On cross-examination, ABC attorney Dane Butswinkas asked Kivetz if he asked survey participants about their prior knowledge of the reports:

"Butswinkas: Were they asked if they had read, seen, or heard anything about this lawsuit? Kivetz: No. Butswinkas: Were they asked whether they had previously seen or had a view of the term 'pink slime?' Kivetz: No. Butswinkas: Were they asked if they have seen any other media coverage about BPI's product? Kivetz: No."

BPI called Mindy Brashears to the stand on Wednesday. Brashears is a professor of food microbiology at Texas Tech University and directs the school's International Center for Food Industry Excellence.

She testified on Wednesday that she examined BPI's product and determined that it was 100 percent beef.

ABC attorney Dane Butswinkas had less than 30 minutes to cross examine Brashears on Wednesday. During that time, he questioned the witness about why some USDA scientists were opposed to approving BPI's product.

Breshears said the USDA decided to approve the product.

Jurors also heard a deposition from Sarah Amos on Wednesday.  In 2012, Amos was in charge of social media accounts and webpages for ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.

Amos testified that she reviewed questions and comments about stories related to BPI's product. She stood by the network's reporting. 

Beef Products Incorporated is seeking $1.9 billion in actual damages in this case. If the company wins at trial, the figure might be tripled under South Dakota's Agricultural Food Products Disparagement Act.

The trial is being held at the Union County Courthouse in Elk Point. The case is expected to go to the jury in late July.