'Pink slime' lawsuit for Jamie Oliver, ABC and blogger

Boneless lean beef trimmings produced by Beef Products Inc The 'pink slime' issue sparked a debate over food production processes

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A worker laid off by a US beef processing company has sued celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a food blogger and ABC News, saying their use of the term "pink slime" helped him lose his job.

Bruce Smith, 58, was one of about 750 people fired by Beef Products Inc, maker of lean, finely textured beef.

He is seeking $70,000 (£43,000) in damages, saying the company and workers were "maligned" by the "unfair" phrase.

The firm closed three plants and fired workers at its South Dakota office.

A social media campaign against use of the beef led to heightened public concerns over its health and safety.

Federal regulators said the beef ingredient met food safety standards, but critics argued the food was unappetising and possibly unsafe.

The US Department of Agriculture eventually chose to allow schools to stop serving the product.

Lean finely textured beef is made from beef heated and spun in a centrifuge to separate the meat from the fat, before the final product is treated with a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas to kill any bacteria.

'Unfairly labelled'

Mr Smith, formerly senior counsel and director of Environmental, Health and Safety at Beef Products Inc, filed his lawsuit in Dakota County District Court, Nebraska.

The filing names Jamie Oliver, food blogger Bettina Siegel, ABC News, its journalists Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila and 10 other unnamed defendants.

Start Quote

I'm confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one”

End Quote Bettina Siegel Food blogger

The company "and its employees were unfairly and unnecessarily maligned and accused of producing a food product that did not exist, a product that critics unfairly labelled 'pink slime'," Mr Smith said in a statement.

He also claims that chef Jamie Oliver used his TV show and social media to target his former employer.

"Defendant Oliver proceeded to use his celebrity chef media notoriety to place pressure on American fast food company McDonald's, and others, to immediately stop using (lean finely textured beef) LFTB ground beef in its retail menu food products," the lawsuit alleges.

In a blog post, Bettina Siegel - who petitioned the US government to change its food policy - remained unrepentant.

"I'm confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one.

"I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance."

Beef Products Inc has also sued ABC News separately for defamation, asking for damages of $1.2bn.

Neither ABC News nor Jamie Oliver made any comment on Mr Smith's lawsuit.

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