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Ex-BPI Employee Sues Media Over LFTB Controversy

A former Beef Products Inc. employee has filed a civil lawsuit against a number of media sources, alleging that they “willfully and maliciously” spread false and misleading statements about BPI’s beef filler known as lean finely textured beef (LFTB), a product referred to as ‘pink slime’ by these sources. Those statements, the former employee claims, ultimately led to sharp declines in BPI’s business and the loss of 800 jobs, including his own.

In the suit, Bruce Smith targets ABC News and a number of media personalities, including ABC anchors Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila, who aired a segment called “Pink Slime and You” during the March 7, 2012 edition of ABC World News with Diane Sawyer.

The lawsuit also names celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and blogger Bettina Siegel. On April 12, 2011, Oliver featured a segment on his TV show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” deriding ‘pink slime’. Siegel, author of The Lunch Tray blog, gained national attention on March 6, 2012, when she started a petition on Change.org titled “Tell USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime in School Food!”

More than 250,000 people signed Siegel’s petition, which ultimately resulted in the USDA giving school districts the choice of whether or not to include LFTB-supplemented beef in their menus. In the weeks that followed, grocery chains such as Safeway, Supervalu Inc., Kroger and Food Lion announced that they would discontinue sales of ground beef containing LFTB.

BPI closed three of its four plants in the months following the media coverage.

Smith worked as an environmental health and safety officer at BPI for more than four years. He was one of nearly 90 corporate employees laid off by the company in May, the Sioux City Journal reports.

A licensed Nebraska attorney representing himself in the lawsuit, Smith is seeking $70,000 in damages for “extreme emotional distress” and “hardship and pain and suffering.” In Nebraska, suits seeking $70,000 or less cannot be transferred to federal court, and Smith wishes the case to be heard by a jury in Dakota County, the Journal reports. BPI operates its one last plant there, and it is where many current and former BPI employees reside.

“For the time being,” Siegel wrote on her blog, “I’ll have no further comment except to say that I’m confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one.”

Smith is also self-publishing a book about the controversy, titled ”Pink Slime Ate My Job,” available now in eBook format and coming in paperback Christmas Day. Smith said that if the book sells at least 100,000 copies, he will donate $1 from each sale to his fellow ex-BPI employees.

In September, BPI filed suit against ABC News, former U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, and a former BPI employee for allegedly defaming its products. The company is seeking $1.2 billion in damages as well as punitive damages for a “sustained a vicious campaign” against LFTB that resulted in “enormous financial harm.”

ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider has said the organization will defend its news coverage against the allegations “vigorously,” saying the lawsuit “is without merit.”

Food safety law firm Marler Clark has been retained by two former USDA employees also named in the lawsuit against ABC News for their defense in the case. Marler Clark underwrites Food Safety News.

Read Smith’s full complaint here.

More comprehensive ‘pink slime’ coverage from Food Safety News can be found here:

BPI and ‘Pink Slime’: A Timeline

The Rise to Fame of ‘Pink Slime’

BPI Sues ABC News, Former USDA Officials for ‘Pink Slime’ Defamation

© Food Safety News
  • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

    Well, Smith certainly has his work cut out for him. I read his complaint (thanks for the link!). Among his challenges will be arguing that celebrity opinions are not protected by the First Amendment. He’s also going to have to prove that using a misclassified picture in conjunction with the online petition changed the outcome of the petition.
    The complaint loses some of it’s rigor towards the end. It ends up listing a number of unattributed statements, and doesn’t link them specifically to any of the defendents. I find it hard to believe that Diane Sawyer called LFTB “sh*t” on the air or is to be held responsible for whoever might have written that on the internet or elsewhere.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    This isn’t the same guy that was going to come out with the book on BPI and the ‘pink slime’ controversy that was never published is it?

    Just strikes me as the same kind of whinny action. 

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    Oops, missed the paragraph about the book–it is the same guy. 

    I am so not surprised. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JJ6FBKACCM6A7OKABCDI6744KI yahoo-JJ6FBKACCM6A7OKABCDI6744KI

    This just in:  “Children of Nazi soldiers to sue United States and Great Britain for broadcasting the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WW2.”

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley Powers

    I found the book on Amazon. I checked out the sample pages that Amazon provides. 

    Under consideration of the threat of being sued for giving my honest opinion of what I have read so far, I can see why the ‘author’ wants money from a lawsuit. Just from the sample, his book is probably one of the most amateurish, poorly written books I’ve had the misfortune to read at Amazon. 

    Legally replicated excerpt:

    “In town, we had two grocers, Sunshine and IGA, both of whom sold different cuts of meat and ground beef, all of which sat behind a class counter, much like what you see today, except there was not as much variety. We’d run up to the front of Sunshine grocery store, hop up onto the penny mechanical horse and ask mom to put a penny in the coin slot. The ride last five unbearable minutes for mom!! She bought the store prepared ground beef. We didn’t have specially seasoned burgers or patties to buy like you find today. There weren’t six different kinds of marinated chicken breasts or stuffed pork chops. Stuff your own chops, buddy! Meat was meat. Chicken wings were not a valued food product as they are in our’wings and things’ society of the twenty-first century. Food labeled to any degree did not exist as it does today with complicated ‘hard to read’ small print and hidden meaning. As for USDA rules and regulations – well, I guess those would come later.”

    Exactly as found in book. Yes, a single paragraph, with exact punctuation found in book.Leaving aside the egregious error about USDA rules and regulations (unless the guy is over 100), what can I say about this excerpt except that I regret the time lost reading it. However, I do feel I have done a public service, warning others to forgo the experience for themselves.

  • flameforjustice

    Let them sue all they want;but the bottom line is the american consumer has the right to know ‘all’ when it comes to what they consume and/or feed their families and loved ones.Most americans spoke up AGAINST having LFTB commonly called pink slime in their ground meat and anything else they consume.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WI44TD3NMUZCXK27DIYMF33EHA chica

    The product was not defamed.  It was acknowledged for what it is.  Cosumers are entitled to know the ingredients of food they purchase with their money and are inspected by the US government with tax dollars.