Smithfield Claims To Be “Sustainable” While Making Its Heavy Pollution Extra Profitable

Published Feb 11, 2021


Food System

Smithfield is pushing a massive greenwashing campaign to mask the fact that it's one of the country's biggest polluters. Now, it's partnering with the gas industry instead of cleaning up its act.

Smithfield is pushing a massive greenwashing campaign to mask the fact that it's one of the country's biggest polluters. Now, it's partnering with the gas industry instead of cleaning up its act.
Updated 10/3/2023

We’ve all probably seen them: advertisements from corporate polluters that sound like they could have been written by an environmental protection group. This tactic, called greenwashing, has become all the rage with some of the biggest polluters to cover up their poisoning of the environment and harm to communities.

Smithfield Foods is a prime example. It’s pushing an aggressive greenwashing campaign so that consumers will overlook that it’s one of the biggest industrial polluters in the United States.

Smithfield could clean up its act by actually making its products without destroying the environment and health of those unlucky enough to live near its plants and the factory farms that raise its pigs. Instead, it’s investing in slick tag lines and doubling down on its devastating factory farm model.

Day in and day out, Smithfield gets rich while spewing dangerous pollutants into our water, air, and soil. And now, Smithfield is partnering with fossil fuel corporations to push factory farm “biogas” schemes. This would allow it to monetize its deliberate mismanagement of the nearly unfathomable amounts of waste it produces year after year.

Factory farm biogas is a false solution that expands and entrenches the worst aspects of mega-factory farms and the dirty natural gas industry. But throughout Smithfield’s marketing — on its websites, social media accounts, and elsewhere — it tells consumers that its pork products are environmentally friendly. It claims that it’s a sustainability leader and climate champion.

This is grade-A greenwashing at its finest. Not only is this deception bad for consumers and family farmers — it’s illegal. That’s why we’re calling on federal regulators to hold Smithfield accountable and stop its false and misleading advertising.

Smithfield Is One of the Biggest Industrial Polluters, Making a Mockery of Its Sustainability Claims

Smithfield is one of the most harmful industrial polluters in the United States. It consistently puts profits over people and the environment. Its factory farms and processing facilities throughout the country rack up dozens of environmental violations every year.

This is why Smithfield has been hit with tens of millions of dollars in damages. Impacted communities have successfully taken the mega-polluter to court for causing conditions that make their homes nearly unlivable.

The federal judges did not mince their words. They recognized that “interlocking dysfunctions” are characteristic of how Smithfield produces its products, and that the company willfully and wantonly harmed its neighbors to maximize profits.

Smithfield’s Claims About Factory Farm Biogas Are Quintessential Corporate Greenwashing

Smithfield’s latest scheme to hide its harm to public health and the climate is its promotion of so-called “biogas.”

To make this gas, it uses anaerobic digesters: tanks or lagoons that create an oxygen-free environment where microbes eat part of Smithfield’s manure. The microbes then emit a mixture of gases, mostly methane and carbon dioxide, that the digester captures. This factory farm gas can then be refined and burned just like fossil natural gas.

Far from showing a “longstanding commitment to sustainability,” as Smithfield claims, biogas only perpetuates the myriad harms caused by the factory farm model. It will drive the construction of new factory farms and entrench the industry’s irresponsible waste management. In fact, Smithfield’s digesters can make its waste even more harmful to waterways than what it started with.

Smithfield’s factory farm biogas scheme fundamentally depends on the worst parts of how it has chosen to produce its pork products on the cheap. By promoting gas, the company is doubling down on its legacy of extreme pollution.

Smithfield says digesters will reduce its methane emissions and produce “renewable” energy. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is more than 80 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period.

But the company fails to mention that this methane is the direct result of Smithfield’s preferred waste management practice, where it liquifies enormous quantities of manure and stores it cheaply in rudimentary “lagoons.” In contrast, when animal manure breaks down naturally, for example on a pasture, it does not generate methane.

Simply put, Smithfield misleadingly tells consumers its pork is environmentally friendly and that it is a leader in sustainability. But in reality, it’s slapping a bandaid over the climate-destroying pollution that it deliberately created in the first place.

Taking the Smithfield Greenwashing Case to the Federal Trade Commission

We aren’t letting this deception go unanswered. Food & Water Watch and a coalition of environmental and sustainable, family farming groups* have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We’re calling for the agency to enforce federal law against Smithfield’s false and misleading marketing.

Under the FTC Act, companies can’t promote their products in any way that is likely to mislead reasonable consumers. As our complaint makes clear, Smithfield’s sustainability marketing tells consumers that its pork products have environmental attributes that are in stark contrast to the reality of how Smithfield does business, duping them into buying its products.

This unfair and illegal practice not only harms consumers, but also harms truly sustainable family farmers who invest the time, effort, and money into producing products that actually match what conscientious consumers expect.

By illegally marketing its products, Smithfield makes it nearly impossible for these honest producers to compete in the marketplace, and for consumers to tell the difference.

Smithfield reportedly brought in more than $16 billion in revenue in 2020. It can afford to clean up its act and transition away from the incredibly harmful factory farm model. Instead, it has opted for false solutions like factory farm biogas so it can wring more money out of its dangerous and polluting production facilities.

Smithfield’s products are not “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly,” and the FTC must act to hold this mega-polluter accountable for lying to the public and its customers.

Your friends should know about this.

* Along with Food & Water Watch, the FTC complaint is joined by Cape Fear River Watch, Dakota Rural Action, Family Farm Action Alliance, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, and Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

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