Photo CC-BY Farmwatch on Flickr.com
At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus tore through production lines, where vulnerable employees work shoulder to shoulder for hours on end, and sickened thousands across the country.
Concerned with protecting their bottom lines, meatpacking companies utterly failed to protect their workers from this life-threatening situation, and deceived the American public about it. In particular, Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processing company in the world, repeatedly lied to consumers about the state of our country’s meat supply, and the steps it was taking to ensure the health and safety of its workers.
In 2021, Food & Water Watch filed suit on behalf of the general public in the D.C. Superior Court for Smithfield’s violations of D.C. consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit.
Our complaint documents the numerous false claims Smithfield peddled to the public, designed to increase profits and salvage its image. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned consumers that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging to record highs. And government data showed that the country had huge stores of pork held in cold storage warehouses that could have kept grocery shelves stocked for months.
Smithfield also repeatedly assured consumers that the company was keeping its workers safe. But congressional reports, government safety citations and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers show that Smithfield failed to provide personal protective equipment or distance its workers, promoted a work-while-sick culture, and actively stymied the efforts of state and local health authorities aimed at protecting plant workers.
In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage, jeopardizing workers and lying to the public in the process. Our lawsuit exposes Smithfield’s outrageous and illegal conduct. We’re asking the court to order Smithfield publicly retract its lies, and potentially pay a hefty penalty for its deceit.
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