BPI press conference

ABC News reporter Jim Avila asks Beef Products Inc. co-founder Regina Roth a question following a press conference in South Sioux City in March 2012. Jury selection for BPI's $1.9 billion defamation suit against ABC's parent company and Avila is set to begin Wednesday in Elk Point, South Dakota, with testimony expected to start on June 5.

SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- An ABC News senior correspondent who has filed numerous stories on so-called "pink slime" found himself in the hot seat during a visit to Siouxland.

In a show of support for Beef Products Inc., governors of three states and lieutenant governors of two others traveled Thursday to South Sioux City. At a news conference, the elected officials attested to the quality and safety of BPI's lean boneless beef, which they claim has been maligned by national media reports.

Jim Avila, who BPI executives have specifically singled out for unfair and inaccurate coverage, went with the politicians on a tour of BPI's plant in South Sioux City.

During a news conference afterward at the Marina Inn Conference Center, Avila asked Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who spearheaded the joint appearance, if his support had "anything to do" with $150,000 in campaign contributions he has received from BPI founders.

"Absolutely not," Branstad shot back angrily. "I will always fight for my constituents, and fight for what's right."

Avila also quizzed another of the speakers at the news conference, Nancy Donley, founder of STOP Foodborne Illness. Donley has been a vocal supporter of BPI's use of ammonia hydroxide gas to kill pathogens that can sicken or kill. In 1993, Donley's 6-year-old son, Alex, became ill and died from E. coli O157:H7 in a hamburger he had eaten. She met BPI co-founder Eldon Roth after she made it her life's cause to improve the safety of the food supply.

Avila asked Donley if her organization had removed from its website the amount of contributions it has received from BPI.

"You have no class. Do you know that?" BPI co-founder Eldon Roth, seated in the audience, said to Avila before Donley replied that her group had not concealed the contributions.

Donley said she is "very grateful" for the support from BPI and other companies.

"BPI has never asked for a single thing, ever. We will never be compromised in our position of protecting consumers from pathogens in the food supply. My goal is to put my organization out of business so there are no foodborne victims any more.

"I will also tell you this," she told Avila. "No price will be put on my son's head."

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