Reuters reports that a year ago, Beef Products Inc. had four state-of-the art plants, more than 1,300 employees and was expanding aggressively.
The meat company was the leading maker of "lean finely textured beef," a low-fat product made from chunks of beef, including trimmings, and exposed to tiny bursts of ammonium hydroxide to kill E. coli and other dangerous contaminants. Few Americans realized the product was a mainstay of fast-food burgers, school lunch tacos and homemade meatloaf.
Today, the South Dakota company's revenues have plummeted from more than $650 million to about $130 million a year, and three of its plants are shuttered. Company officials blame the abrupt falloff on a series of ABC News broadcasts that began last March - stories that repeatedly called its product "pink slime."
BPI hired a high-powered Chicago trial lawyer and in September slapped the network, star anchor Diane Sawyer and other defendants with a 27-count lawsuit that seeks at least $1.2 billion in damages - about one-fifth of the fiscal 2012 net income of American Broadcasting Co parent Walt Disney Co. Now, the case, which many observers initially wrote off as a public relations ploy by a desperate company, is shaping up as one of the most high-stakes defamation court battles in U.S. history.
The court fight could put modern television journalism on trial and highlight the power of language in the Internet Age: In the wake of the reports on "World News with Diane Sawyer," the term "pink slime" went viral.