Congress Confirms: Smithfield Lied. We Won’t Let Them Get Away With It.


Food System

by Emily Miller

Last month, Congress’s explosive report revealed how the country’s largest meatpackers lied to the public and endangered their workers. The companies, including pork giant Smithfield Foods, falsely claimed meat shortages. Then they aggressively lobbied the federal government to keep plants running with “glaringly deficient” safety protocols, despite the terrible risk to workers’ lives. 

The report’s findings are truly disturbing. But sadly, they are not surprising. In fact, we’ve known that Smithfield was lying from the start, which is why we sued the company last year. Unbelievably, just two days after Congress released its findings, Smithfield demanded that the court dismiss our case. They argued our detailed allegations have no merit — a bold position in the wake of the Congressional report. The investigation documents in painstaking detail just how egregious Smithfield’s lies were. See for yourself — here are just a few excerpts exposing Smithfield’s central role in drumming up panic and endangering workers:  

Lie #1: That we were “Perilously Close to the Edge in Terms of our Nation’s Meat Supply.”

“While meatpacking companies—Smithfield and Tyson in particular—asserted that reduced plant operations and worker absenteeism were making the food supply chain ‘vulnerable,’ documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee suggest that this narrative lacked any basis in fact and show that others in the industry believed it was false. For example, on April 12, 2020, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan issued a public statement admonishing that the closure of one of its plants was ‘pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our [nation’s] meat supply,’ and would have ‘severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain.’ But just three days later, Smithfield asked their industry representatives to issue a statement that ‘there was plenty of meat, enough that it was [sic] for them to export,’ while Smithfield simultaneously was ‘tell[ing] importers they have enough meat.’ When discussing Sullivan’s statements about the meat supply, meatpacking industry representatives described it as ‘intentionally scaring people,’ ‘whipp[ing] everyone into a frenzy,’ and creating a ‘mess’ that others would have to ‘clean up.’ When meatpacking industry representatives inquired into where any actual shortages were occurring, they were unable to find any.” 

Lie #2: That Smithfield has “done everything possible to protect employee health and safety.”

“When meatpacking companies’ attempts to stifle state and local health department regulation did not yield sufficiently comprehensive results, Smithfield and Tyson conceived of a ‘federal directive’ that would ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to impose coronavirus health and safety precautions in the plants. The meatpacking companies drafted and pitched an executive order to the Trump White House, which promptly issued it after less than a week of review and revision. The final order that was eventually issued adopted the themes and statutory directive laid out in the meatpacking industry’s draft, invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure meatpacking plants ‘continue operations.’”

“Meatpacking companies and USDA officials sought the ‘critical infrastructure’ designation without first attempting to address the glaringly deficient coronavirus precautions in plants. This conduct is particularly egregious considering that, as discussed above, the nation’s meat supply was not actually at risk.”

Lie #3: That Smithfield wasn’t “unwilling to implement worker protections for the sake of profits.”

The truth is, Smithfield was unwilling from the beginning. They avoided implementing worker protections and worked with federal agencies to keep avoiding them throughout the pandemic. Congress reports that:

“Emails obtained by the Select Subcommittee and statements given during transcribed interviews show that meatpacking companies communicated regularly with USDA regarding USDA’s discussions with CDC and OSHA about coronavirus mitigation guidance and recommendations to ensure they would allow plants to continue operating without critical science-based prevention and mitigation measures.” 

One such example centered on an “outbreak [that] occurred in April 2020 in Smithfield’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant, which left at least 900 workers infected and two workers dead. When CDC issued recommendations to address the coronavirus outbreak in the facility, the recommendations included precatory language and qualifiers that effectively made the guidance optional for Smithfield. It later came to light that the CDC recommendations had been watered down from an earlier draft that lacked these types of qualifiers.” 

“Internal meatpacking company documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee now illustrate how these edits came about—namely, that Smithfield intercepted the draft CDC recommendations, provided extensive comments to CDC, USDA, and the South Dakota Governor’s office, and ultimately succeeded in having CDC water them down before being issued.” 

“Even though the guidance had been significantly watered down per Smithfield’s efforts, CEO Ken Sullivan said upon its release that ‘this is worse than nothing’ and a ‘Middle finger from govt.’”

“Smithfield’s changes to CDC’s recommendations had potentially dire consequences for Smithfield’s workers. During the first year of the pandemic, Smithfield saw 9,666 worker infections and 25 worker deaths. Smithfield’s lethal role in weakening federal meatpacking worker protections was not limited to its own employees. The company’s lobbying efforts with respect to the Sioux Falls recommendations carried over into shaping CDC/OSHA guidance for all federally-inspected meatpacking plants.”

What’s Our Next Step?

Our legal team is fighting Smithfield’s attempt to dismiss our case. We won’t let it stop the court from deciding for itself whether Smithfield’s pandemic statements were unlawfully false and misleading. Armed with Congress’ findings, we are confident we can overcome Smithfield’s meritless arguments. Once we do, we will start demanding the company turn over relevant records and witnesses. That’ll allow us to continue building our case and expose Smithfield’s lies for what they are.

We’re holding Smithfield accountable. Help us spread the word.

Stop Water Shutoffs In The Wake Of Coronavirus


Clean Water

Too many people across the country can’t wash their hands because their water service is turned off. This endangers all of us, especially when the most widely endorsed strategy to prevent or manage the coronavirus (COVID-19) is to wash our hands frequently. 

Water must be turned on for everyone, right now, for the safety of the entire country. That’s why we’re pushing both Congress in their stimulus package and Governors at the state level — demanding that they stop all water shutoffs  and enact long-term solutions that will ensure our water systems are funded.

This emergency has proven one thing: Withholding water costs lives and it’s time our representatives stepped up to protect us.

Two Easy Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Stop Water Shutoffs During Coronavirus

Here are two immediate ways to do something about water shutoffs in your community and nationwide.

1. Tell President Biden: No water shutoffs during a pandemic! 

2. Urge members of Congress to cosponsor the WATER Act

We Can Stop Water Shutoffs Amid This Pandemic

By taking action you can be a part of the amazing response from people all across the US demanding water shutoffs in their state and around the country. Together with 53,000 of our supporters signing on to our actions, we’ve:

  • Stopped water shutoffs in 15 states and DC. 
  • Helped 663 local jurisdictions suspend all water shutoffs for nonpayment, 
  • Protected 206 million Americans – that’s 63% of the U.S. population. 
  • Found that the top 10 cities with the most water shutoffs, as found in our national survey conducted in 2018, are now among the places that have paused shutoffs.
  • Coordinated with 80 members of congress joined our movement and released a letter (headlined by Rep. Brenda Lawrence) demanding federal action on water. 
  • Joined more than 230 environmental, social justice, labor, and religious organizations from across the country sending a sister a letter echoing the demands. 
  • Worked with more than 830 groups to send a letter to Congress also pushing for federal action on water, along with protections for electricity and broadband connectivity access. 

You can check to see every city, state, and utility that has taken action to provide water for all on our public spreadsheet with live updates.  

States That Are Showing The Nation How It’s Done

Some states have been responding faster than others. Here’s are some of the top grassroots movements that have formed to push for water justice during the pandemic:

Washington State: Governor Inslee does the right thing in Washington state. 

Maryland: Groups urge Baltimore Mayor Young to suspend water shutoffs for 180 days.

Pennsylvania: Governor Wolf must stop water shutoffs in Pennsylvania. 

Ohio: Ohio passes legislation strongly supporting rights to water — now Governor DeWine MUST sign it.

New Jersey: Governor Murphy pushes utilities to stop shutoffs in New Jersey. 

Louisiana: New Orleans has one of the highest shutoff rates in the nation — suspend shutoffs during coronavirus!

Read About Suspending Water Shutoffs To Fight Coronavirus

Here is more of our analysis around the need for an immediate suspension of water shutoffs. 

Coronavirus has brought a major warning about our water. 

House Democrats urge state and local governments to suspend water shutoffs and restore water.

We need a national ban on water shutoffs!

Other Ways To Help Protect Water

Our efforts are starting to work, but we need to keep pushing. Consider becoming a monthly donor to support fights like this one. We need your help to keep pushing!

Help support our campaigns, like keeping the water on for families nationwide. Become a monthly donor now!

Coronavirus Has Brought A Major Warning About Our Water


Clean Water

Water has always been crucial to our survival. But the coming challenges from climate chaos and new diseases are about to put it into sharp perspective, and hopefully we can protect water in time.

COVID-19, or the new coronavirus disease, is affecting our nation and world in major ways. Between school and workplace closings, mandatory lockdowns in some places, a panicked run on grocery stores, and the burden on hospitals which are not equipped with enough supplies to help everyone who will need it, the coronavirus is showing us just how vulnerable we are. 

But with climate chaos nipping at our heels, coronavirus might just be the first of new viruses, or prehistoric ones, coming at us. Pair that with major threats to our water sources, like fracking, and it becomes clear we need to act now to protect our future.

We Need Running Water To Combat Coronavirus

Without running water for everyone, fighting the new coronavirus disease is impossible. Food & Water Watch demands a nationwide moratorium on water shutoffs and rapid restoration of water service for all people. Our leaders need to make sure water is turned back on in households where it’s been shut off for non-payment. Without water, people can not wash their hands to combat the spread of the coronavirus. 

Support the WATER Act by urging your member of Congress to support it!

Coronavirus is showing our nation the importance of universal access to water. Decades of federal underinvestment in water infrastructure has caused a water affordability crisis in our country. Let this moment prove the critical urgency of revamping our water systems. Congress must pass the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act, dedicating $35 billion a year to help repair drinking water and sewage systems, while also creating almost 1 million jobs. It is a crucial step to proactively improve our water infrastructure and make access universal.

The WATER Act Is Our Best Tool To Protect Our Water Future

Safe water is non-negotiable. Access to affordable service is non-negotiable. Clean drinking water is a human right — people shouldn’t have to worry about whether their water is safe to drink or whether they can wash their hands.

We need dedicated funding to keep our water systems up-to-date and affordable, protecting our water for generations to come.

Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) and Representatives Brenda Lawrence (MI) and Ro Khanna (CA) introduced legislation that will help fix our aging water systems and ensure that every person has access to safe, clean water. And the Congressional Progressive Caucus unanimously endorsed the WATER Act on October 1, 2019. 

Now is the moment to call for federal action. In fact, today is World Water Day, an annual holiday designed to highlight the connection between water and public health. Let’s honor it by calling on Congress to pass the WATER Act to ensure every person in our country has safe water. 

Nearly Every Future Climate Change Headline Will Trace Back To Water

Warmer air holds more water than cooler air. As our planet warms, so changes our water cycles. Wildfires, supercharged hurricanes, flooding, drought, agricultural anomalies, rising sea levels, emerging viruses — our survival in all of these areas hinges on how we are protecting our planet and the water that’s on it.

We must rewrite that water story for future generations — a story where the ones who came before them acted in time to preserve this precious resource. 

Fracking Threatens Our Water Supply

It turns out, fracking is even more of a water hog than many realized, even those of us critical of it from the beginning. A Duke study showed that not only was fracking sucking up more water than the industry told us, but that much of it was forever unusable and untreatable afterward. 

The study found:

  • From 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased by as much as 770 percent. 
  • Toxic wastewater produced from fracking had increased up to 1440 percent between 2011 and 2016.

There has been no practice of water treatment that returns this water to usable condition for humans — and at this scale, one can reason that unless fracking is stopped, it’s on pace to severely impact U.S. water sources.

Add this on top of the fact that fracking and fossil fuels are largely responsible for climate change, and we can see that fracking is one of humanity’s number one enemies that must be stopped. 

We Must Stand Together To Fiercely Protect Our Water

Food & Water Watch and its members battle the corporations stealing water, polluting water, and causing climate change. We expose their playbook through our research and we organize community members to stop these predators. We’ve done this work for fifteen years, and shoulder to shoulder with you we will continue this work until our water is safe from these threats. Will you support The WATER Act to protect our water future?

Send Congress a message to show your support for the WATER Act.