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Lawsuit: ‘Pink slime’ reporting cost worker his job

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A former worker at a South Dakota beef processor is suing ABC News, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and a food blogger, saying their use of the phrase "pink slime" to describe one of the company's products led to the loss of his job.

Bruce Smith, 58, is among about 750 people who were laid off at Beef Products Inc. in the wake of what the company called a misinformation campaign in social media and news reports about the product: lean, finely textured beef.

In May, Beef Products Inc. closed three plants — one each in Texas, Kansas and Iowa — and laid off workers at its corporate headquarters in South Dakota.

Mr. Smith, of Dakota Dunes, was the company's senior counsel and director of environmental, health and safety issues. He filed a civil suit Tuesday in Dakota County District Court in Nebraska seeking $70,000 in damages.

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 labeled 'pink slime,'" he said in a statement.

The lawsuit names as defendants American Broadcasting Cos. Inc., ABC News, ABC News journalists Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila, Mr. Oliver, food blogger Bettina Siegel and 10 unnamed defendants.

Mr. Smith claims the journalists reporting the story knowingly and recklessly made untrue statements about the product during newscasts. BPI already has sued ABC News, Ms. Sawyer and Mr. Avila for defamation over ABC's coverage of the product. That lawsuit, which seeks $1.2 billion in damages, is still pending.

Mr. Smith's lawsuit further claims Mr. Oliver used his television show and social media to target BPI and that Ms. 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.

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. Just three states — Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota — participating in the National School Lunch Program have continued to order ground beef with the product.

Messages were left with representatives for ABC News and Mr. Oliver seeking comment Wednesday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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