A former employee of Beef Products Inc. is suing ABC News, anchor Diane Sawyer, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and others, saying that their use of the phrase “pink slime” ultimately cost him his job.
Bruce Smith was among 750 people laid off by the South Dakota beef processor earlier this year amid fears over the safety and quality of a meat product dubbed “pink slime” by critics.
The product, known in the industry as lean finely textured beef, was treated with ammonia to eliminate food-born pathogens with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s blessing, according to the suit.
But Smith accused ABC, Sawyer, Oliver and food blogger Bettina Siegel, along with several other defendants, of spreading the “pink slime” moniker to suggest that the beef trimmings were dangerous to consume.
“My former employer was maliciously and needlessly maligned and accused of producing a food product that did not exist -- a product derisively, repeatedly, and relentlessly called ‘pink slime’ by traditional TV broadcast and print media, in concert with social internet media critics, bloggers, politicians, and celebrity entertainers,” Smith said in a statement.
In rapid succesion, schools, supermarkets, restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and other clients disavowed the product, leaving Beef Products with little demand to fill. In the spring, the company stopped production at three plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa and slashed headcount at its South Dakota headquarters.
Smith was Beef Products’s senior counsel and director of environmental health and safety when he was let go in May after more than four years with the company, he said. The South Dakota resident blamed “irrational hype and hysteria” for the “extreme hardship” he and his co-workers suffered.
The civil suit, filed this week in Dakota County District Court in Nebraska, seeks $70,000 in damages. Smith is also plugging a book he wrote, titled “Pink Slime Ate My Job.”
In a blog post reacting to the suit, Siegel wrote that she was “confident the 1st Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one.”
ABC News and Oliver declined to comment.
In September, Beef Products filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News, alleging that the network misled Americans about the safety of its meat.