Jamie Oliver sued for calling beef product 'pink slime'

Jamie OliverRobert Schlesinger/DPA/Press Association Images

Jamie Oliver's US TV programme on school dinners was controversial for a number of reasons. Now it is gaining attention for its use of the word 'pink slime' to describe a meat product known in the trade as 'lean, finely textured beef'. A former employee of a manufacturer of the product is suing him, and a number of other people in the media, claiming it eventually led to him losing his job.

So what is he claiming?
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The product

Lean finely textured beef was something Oliver drew attention to in the UK in his school dinners series here. He attempted to recreate it with children in an effort to shock them into re-thinking their fondness for processed foods such as hamburgers.

The product is made from beef (after all the muscular joints of meat have been removed), which is heated and spun in a large drum to force the meat away from the fat, it is then treated to kill any bacteria and shaped ready for sale.

Jobs

According to the BBC, Bruce Smith, 58, was one of roughly 750 people fired by Beef Products Inc, which makes lean, finely textured beef, after it closed three plants and downsized its South Dakota office. He lost his job there as senior counsel and director of Environmental, Health and Safety

He is now suing Jamie Oliver, along with food blogger Bettina Siegel, ABC News - its journalists Diane Sawyer and Jim Avila and 10 other unnamed defendants.

Smith claims that the phrase 'pink slime' and the campaign against it led to him losing his job. According to the BBC he wants £43,000 in damages - which he says were caused by the use of the 'unfair' phrase.

The claims

He said in a statement that the firm 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'.

He added: "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 LA Times says that as a result of the campaign, schools, supermarkets and restaurants including McDonalds stopped using the product.

According to the BBC, ABC News and Oliver made no comment on the law suit. Siegel said in a blog post: "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."

There are those who argue that these individuals did not coin the term 'pink slime'. It was first used in a report in the New York Times in 2009 - long before Oliver's programme - after being coined by a US Scientist.

Separately, in September, Beef Products filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News, alleging that the network misled Americans about the safety of its meat. It is claiming $1.2 billion in damages.

Smith has also written a book called "Pink Slime Ate My Job", which is raising money for those hit by the layoffs.

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