Houston blogger Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray has learned that Bruce Smith, a former BPI employee, is suing her and others over the “pink slime” controversy earlier this year. Here’s her description, from her blog, of what is happening:
Yesterday I learned that Bruce Smith, a former environmental health and safety officer at Beef Products Inc., has filed a pro se lawsuit in Nebraska state court relating to last spring’s controversy over BPI’s lean, finely textured beef product (LFTB). I’m one of the named defendants, along with ABC News, Jim Avila, Diane Sawyer and Jamie Oliver. I have not been served with the suit.
In his complaint, Mr. Smith claims to have suffered the negligent infliction of emotional distress due to the loss of his job at BPI last May. Mr. Smith has also self-published a book entitled Pink Slime Ate My Job, the sale of which he appears to be promoting in connection with his lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit on the pink slime controversy while simultaneously publishing and publicizing a book on the pink slime controversy strikes me as curiously unethical. But then again, Mr. Smith’s former employer, BPI, often took actions that struck me as unethical — such as working the system to ensure that consumers wouldn’t know that LFTB was in the nation’s ground beef. Seems to me that Mr. Smith’s sense of ethics mirror his former employer’s.
For those unfamiliar with the pink slime controversy (and I doubt there are many), Ms. Siegel started a change.org petition last spring,“Tell USDA to STOP Using Pink Slime in School Food!” that in less than two weeks was signed by over 250,000 people. The petition caused the USDA to start offering schools a choice between ground beef that contained LFTB and ground beef that didn’t. And most schools now opt to purchase the ground beef without LFTB. Simultaneously, a series of excellent investigative reports by Jim Avila of ABC News led to many of the nation’s grocery chains permanently removing ground beef that contained LFTB from their meat sections.
This is the second lawsuit that has been filed on the LFTB controversy. A defamation lawsuit initiated this fall by BPI did not name Ms. Siegel as a defendant.
As both a food reformer and an admirer of Ms. Siegel and her pink slime petition, I am sorry to learn that she must spend time fighting this unwarranted lawsuit. But I have full confidence she will prevail. In posting her petition, she did our nation a great service by publicizing that LFTB was being fed to our children in school meals. She simply exercised her right to free speech (and there was nothing she stated that wasn’t true) and deserves to have this lawsuit dismissed quickly.
Large corporations and their employees often use lawsuits to try to silence criticism of their corporate products and practices, even when they know that their chances of winning are slim. The real purpose of these lawsuits appear to be an attempt to discourage further criticism of their products and practices. These suits can have a chilling effect on free speech. While ABC News has a legal department that will represent their interests, bloggers like Ms. Siegel do not, and must incur expenses for legal representation.
I’m hopeful Ms. Siegel can countersue for legal fees and other related costs to fight this suit. If she cannot, I intend to start a campaign to raise money to cover her legal costs.
It’s a sad day in America when a hero like Ms. Siegel is forced to defend herself in court against a lawsuit timed to increase the sales of the plaintiff’s book. I’ll keep everyone posted on this lawsuit as it moves forward. And do take a minute to go to The Lunch Tray and offer Ms. Siegel a supportive comment!