Food Advocacy Groups Defend Lawsuit to Hold Smithfield Accountable for Lying to the Public

A recent congressional report confirms that Smithfield’s claims about meat shortages and worker safety demand scrutiny

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Food System

Today, Public Justice and Food & Water Watch submitted their opposition brief in response to Smithfield Foods’ motion to dismiss Food & Water Watch’s case. The case alleges that Smithfield Foods has repeatedly lied to consumers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to protect its bottom line at the expense of its workers’ health and safety.

Smithfield’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit comes in the wake of a damning congressional report released last month, exposing the role that Smithfield and other meatpacking giants played in inciting panic about the national meat supply and endangering workers in the process. After conducting an extensive investigation, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis concluded that the country’s largest meatpackers—including Smithfield— not only lied to the public about meat shortages, but also aggressively lobbied the federal government to keep plants running with “glaringly deficient” safety protocols, despite the terrible risk to workers’ lives.

Congress’ findings validate the advocacy groups’ claims against the pork giant. Throughout the pandemic, Smithfield has mounted an aggressive public relations campaign based on two claims: that the company was adequately protecting workers at its facilities from COVID-19, and that meat shortages were imminent if processing plants were forced to close. The lawsuit alleges both claims are false. Nonetheless, Smithfield continues to promote misleading information about how it protected its workers earlier in the pandemic.

In moving to dismiss this case, Smithfield excused its baseless claims about impending meat shortages, arguing that government agencies and the Trump administration made similar statements. However, the congressional report traces those same government statements directly back to meat industry lobbyists, including Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan.

“Smithfield has a lot of nerve attempting to dismiss our case just two days after Congress published its truly disturbing findings about the company’s pandemic response,” says Emily Miller, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch. “As confirmed by Congress, while Smithfield was telling the public it was doing ‘everything in its power’ to protect its workers, the company was actually cutting backroom deals with federal regulators so that it did not have to implement life-saving safety precautions at its plants. Smithfield put its workers in grave danger then, and if not stopped now, will keep putting workers at risk as new COVID variants surge throughout the country.”

The meatpacking giant also claimed that it had addressed worker safety concerns. However, the COVID pandemic is still having a serious impact, from the emergence of new variants to ongoing outbreaks that continue to put workers in danger.

Public Justice Budd Attorney Ellen Noble has this to say on today’s brief: “Smithfield Foods fabricated a controversy and panic. The company intentionally promoted the myth that meat shortages were imminent if the company scaled down production to protect workers. This myth impacted consumers’ purchasing decisions and stirred up a national debate about the need to keep meatpacking plants running at full capacity. Smithfield’s tactic of ginning up a public controversy to promote production is not unlike Big Tobacco’s strategy of turning the health risks of smoking into a public argument, instead of a well-documented and widely accepted fact.”