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:© Food Safety News