UK & World News

  • 13 December 2012, 17:56

Chef Jamie Oliver Sued In 'Pink Slime' Row

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is among those being sued in the US by a worker laid off by a beef processing firm after "pink slime" was apparently used in fast food and school lunches.

Bruce Smith is one of 750 employees fired earlier this year by Beef Products Incorporated (BPI) following a flood of reports about the substance. He is suing Oliver, ABC News and blogger Bettina Siegel.

The lawsuit accuses them of "the dissemination of untrue facts and misinformation" about Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB) and argues they "engaged in negligent, wilful and reckless behaviour" against BPI.

The process involves heating beef scraps and running them through a centrifuge to separate out fat, then treating the final product with ammonium hydroxide to prevent contamination by e.coli and other pathogens.

The company, which had produced 350,000 tons of the substance each year, insists LFTB is a "significant, safe and reliable source of lean beef meat" and that the ammonium hydroxide is not considered an ingredient.

"Pursuant to USDA and FDA regulations, LFTB was, and is, 100% beef," it said.

Mr Smith, 58, has requested $70,000 (43,000) in compensation, saying a larger amount may mean the case is transferred out of his Nebraska community and into a US federal court.

He said he wants the public to understand "how consumer fears and concerns were falsely hyped and manipulated by the traditional and social media, celebrities, politicians and others".

In an episode in April 2011 of his Food Revolution show, Oliver spun beef scraps in a washing machine and doused them with ammonium hydroxide to illustrate the process, referring to the finished product as "pink slime".

"You've just turned dog food into potentially your kids' food," Oliver said at the end of the demonstration, adding "everything about this process to me is about no respect for food, or people, or children".

The following March, Ms Siegel, author of The Lunch Tray blog, launched an online petition to ban LFTB in school lunches, gathering 250,000 signatures. ABC News then ran a series of stories on the substance.

At around the same time, a picture of strawberry-coloured chicken paste was widely circulated on the internet, falsely labelled as LFTB.

ABC News and Oliver could not immediately be reached for comment, but Ms Siegel wrote on her blog that she was confident the constitutional freedom of speech protects her from "meritless attempts at censorship like this one."

She added: "I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance and to petition the federal government."

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