A worker laid off by a beef processor after U.S. media reported the use of "pink slime" in fast food and school lunches is suing reporters and a celebrity chef, alleging a campaign of "misinformation."
Bruce Smith is one of some 750 employees laid off earlier this year by Beef Products Incorporated (BPI) after a flood of reports about the substance. He is suing ABC News, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and blogger Bettina Siegel.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses them of "the dissemination of untrue facts and misinformation" about lean finely textured beef (LFTB). It argues they "engaged in negligent, willful and reckless behavior" against BPI.
The process involves heating beef scraps and running them through a centrifuge to separate out fat, then treating the final product with ammonium hydroxide to prevent contamination by e.coli and other pathogens.
The company, which had produced 700 million pounds of the substance each year, insists LFTB is a "significant, safe and reliable source of lean beef meat" and that the ammonium hydroxide is not considered an ingredient.
"Pursuant to USDA and FDA regulations, LFTB was, and is, 100 percent beef," it said in the court filing.
Smith, 58, has also written a book, entitled "Pink Slime Ate My Job." He has only requested $70,000 in compensation, saying that a larger amount might see the case transferred out of his Nebraska community and into a federal court.
"I want those responsible for the 'pink slime' smear campaign to appear here in Dakota County, Nebraska... and to face those who lost their jobs firsthand," Smith says on his website, pinkslimeatemyjob.com.
He said he wants the public to understand "how consumer fears and concerns were falsely hyped and manipulated by the traditional and social media, celebrities, politicians and others."
Celebrity Chef Launches Controversy
Celebrity chef Oliver kicked off the controversy in an April 12, 2011, episode of his show "Food Revolution," in which he spun beef scraps in a washing machine and doused them with ammonium hydroxide to illustrate the process, referring to the finished product as "pink slime."
"You've just turned dog food into potentially your kids' food," Oliver said at the end of the demonstration, adding, "everything about this process to me is about no respect for food, or people, or children."
The following March Siegel, author of "The Lunch Tray" blog, launched an online petition to ban LFTB in school lunches, gathering 250,000 signatures. ABC News then ran a series of stories on the substance.
At around the same time, a picture of strawberry-colored chicken paste was widely circulated on the Internet, falsely labeled as LFTB.
ABC News and Oliver could not immediately be reached for comment, but Siegel wrote on her blog that she was confident the constitutional freedom of speech protects her from "meritless attempts at censorship like this one."
She added: "I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance and to petition the federal government."
In September, BPI filed a defamation suit against ABC and its team of journalists, including Diane Sawyer, anchor for the flagship ABC World News, and correspondent Jim Avila, both named in the latest complaint.
The complaint called BPI an "American success story" that lowered the fat content of ground beef, reduced the cost to consumers and decreased the number of cattle slaughtered for lean beef production.
ABC News Senior Vice President Jeffrey Schneider said at the time that BPI's lawsuit was "without merit" and vowed to "vigorously" contest it.
In April, Pennsylvania-based AFA Foods said it was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection following media coverage of the same issue.
Pink slime got its unflattering nickname from microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein, who as a USDA food inspector investigating a food bacteria outbreak in 2002 toured a Beef Products plant and recoiled at what he found.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012