12/13/2012 11:26 am ET

Bruce Smith, Pink Slime Worker Fired After Scandal, Sues ABC, Jamie Oliver, Others

The legal battle over the product known as "pink slime" is getting personal.

In May, Beef Products Inc, the South Dakota-based company that produced "lean finely textured beef" using bits and pieces of cattle carcasses, shut down production at its three factories, and then sued ABC and Jamie Oliver for their role in impugning its brand integrity. Now 58-year-old Bruce Smith, the former senior counsel at Beef Products HQ, is doing much the same thing, suing several media figures who criticized "pink slime," including Oliver and ABC's Diane Sawyer, for compensation for losing his job.

Both suits claim that segments on Oliver and Sawyer's show improperly defamed Beef Products by making "pink slime" out to be dangerous and disgusting, partially by using that name.

Smith's suit, which asks the court for $70,000 in damages, also names blogger Bettina Siegel (who occasionally contributes to The Huffington Post) and targets 10 unnamed defendants as complicit in the scheme to defame Beef Products Inc. The AP explains:

Smith's lawsuit further claims that Oliver used his television show and social media to target BPI, and that Siegel used her popular food blog and social media to gain signatures in an online campaign to remove the product from the National School Lunch Program.

"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 LFTB ground beef in its retail menu food products," the lawsuit said.

Several fast food companies, including McDonald's Corp., stopped using the product after the uproar, and major supermarket chains vowed to stop selling beef containing the low-cost product. Only three states – Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota – participating in the National School Lunch Program have continued to order ground beef with the product.

Both Smith and the company (which is asking for a whopping $1.2 billion in damages) face an uphill battle with this case. U.S. courts have traditionally put a high threshold on defamation suits, in the interest of protecting freedom of the press.



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