Are We Really About to Start Eating Lab Meat?!


Food System

by Peter Hart

If you’ve scanned the headlines recently, you might have thought “lab-grown” meat would soon be destined for your dinner table. A company called Upside Foods scored a massive PR triumph, with stories all over the world giving the impression that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had deemed their lab meat, also called “cell” or “cultured” meat, “safe for human consumption.”

What the FDA actually did, though, was not so definitive — and it stands as a timely reminder to be skeptical about the quick-fix, cure-all, techno-hype around cultured meat.

This November, Upside Foods — formerly known as Memphis Meats — blasted a press release declaring that it was the “First Company in the World to Receive U.S. FDA ‘Green Light’ for Cultivated Meat.”

But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that what the FDA actually did was not so final. The agency simply reviewed data submitted by the company and determined that it had no further questions. As the far more muted FDA press release put it, “The voluntary pre-market consultation is not an approval process.”

The truth is, there are a host of concerns when it comes to lab meat. The production process requires heavy use of antibiotics and hazardous materials. Diseases can spread throughout a facility or into the product during that process. And there are also as yet unknown health and safety risks for humans eating cultured meat. 

Lab Meat Hype Doesn’t Live Up to Reality

The idea that we can build massive laboratories that grow animal cells into food sounds like the stuff of science fiction. At this point, it is mostly just that. 

“Lab meat” would come from tissue and growth mediums extracted from animals to grow muscle fibers. With chemical additives, the resulting muscle fibers mimic conventional meat. 

Tech-happy investors and industry evangelists like to paint a cruelty-free future. In their vision, cultured meat grown in steel vats erases many of the worst aspects of Big Ag, like dangerous slaughterhouses and polluting factory farms. Instead, we’d be fed by laboratories churning out animal protein indistinguishable — or so we’re told — from the “real thing.”

But this is hype that far outpaces reality. Millions of Wall Street dollars have been invested in an array of lab meat start ups. Those startups have regularly promised breakthroughs that have not materialized

In fact, there remain substantial doubts that lab-grown meat will ever economically compete with conventional meat. For now, there is a single location in the world where you can purchase an order of lab-derived chicken nuggets. It’ll cost you $23 and a plane ticket to Singapore.

Lab Meat Likely Won’t Help Us Stop Climate Change

There’s no denying that factory farms represent a growing threat to climate stability. They’re a significant source of methane emissions, thanks in large part to massive herds that produce liquid manure. That’s why lab meat proponents argue that they can build a cleaner alternative.

But these claims are, at best, speculative. And it’s important to understand that meat giants like Cargill are heavily invested in this industry — precisely because they don’t expect it to “replace” factory farm meat.  

What we do know, though, suggests that scaling up production may actually be worse for the climate than the status quo. We are talking about industrialization, after all.

These facilities would require enormous amounts of energy, likely from fossil fuel sources. One study found that mass production of lab meat would have substantial ecological impacts — perhaps even more than livestock farming. 

We Don’t Need Tech Cures — We Need a Sustainable Food System 

The solution to a food system designed to maximize corporate profits won’t come from a technological fix championed by food corporations and Wall Street investors. And a few new, niche “meat” choices won’t make factory farming disappear. 

We can build a more sustainable food system, and that doesn’t require the latest overhyped, “disruptive” innovation. Those innovations just attract Wall Street investors, not transformational change. 

To achieve that change, we need to invest in diverse, regional, sustainable agriculture and ban polluting factory farms. We also need to win the political victories at the state and federal levels that will transition us off the factory farm model. 

At the same time, we must fight against the corporate powers that have a stranglehold on our food system. That in part means stopping new corporate mega-mergers and reinstating robust supply management policies. These policies will help us nurture regional, diverse, regenerative agriculture. 

A just, safe, and sustainable food system doesn’t start or end with a new tactic for corporate profits.

Lab meat won’t fix our food system. Help us cut through the hype!

The Poultry Giants Are Abusing Growers. USDA Can Stop Them.


Food System

by Mia DiFelice

In July 2022, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit and proposed consent decree against three poultry processors for alleged antitrust violations and unlawful labor practices.

Once the federal court signs off, the $84.4 million settlement would end a long-running conspiracy between Sanderson Farms, Wayne Farms and Cargill Inc. The three allegedly worked together to suppress worker pay at poultry processing plants.

The settlement would also address the companies’ abuses against contract poultry growers. These contract growers raise and care for the companies’ chickens before slaughter. 

As part of the settlement deal, Sanderson and Wayne agreed on a guaranteed base payment to their growers. The deal also requires them to give growers more information about the risks involved in contracting with these mega-corporations.

These disclosure requirements mirror a new rule USDA proposed in June. The rule would aim to increase transparency in the notoriously unfair “tournament” payment system widely used throughout the poultry industry.

The new rule is the first in a series of anticipated USDA actions meant to strengthen protections for farmers and growers. These actions are sorely needed. But alone, this transparency rule won’t come close to fixing our broken system.

How The Poultry Giants Dump Costs On Their Contractors

From feed to egg to chicken, to the packages we see at the supermarket, just a few players call the shots. Those players are the processor giants like Sanderson and Cargill. They’re also called integrators because they bring nearly every link in the supply chain under their control. 

Rather than raise chickens and market to consumers, integrators found it’s much cheaper to have others do it for them. Even better — they can force growers to take on huge debt to build out single-purpose chicken houses designed to the integrators’ exact specifications. A typical operation with four chicken houses can cost $1 million to build. That doesn’t include costly upgrades that integrators frequently demand growers make to keep their contracts. 

And even better for integrators, they place all risk of environmental and public health impacts on growers. They shield themselves from the pervasive harm caused by the practices they force growers to adopt. 

Though they avoid the biggest costs, the processor giants maintain tight control over how chickens are grown. Through contracts, processors provide — and control — the chicks, the feed and the veterinary care. 

This system has hurt poultry growers for decades. Within it, integrators reap all the rewards without bearing the risks or costs. They force the public to cope with the industry’s polluted air and water. Meanwhile, growers’ livelihoods depend on an unpredictable, unfair and abusive payout system.

Enter, tournaments. 

In Poultry Tournaments, Processors Don’t Play Fair

Once the flocks are ready for slaughter, the integrators survey the weights of all the birds for every grower in a tournament group. (The integrator decides who is in which group.) They take the average, and then dock pay of growers below the average. What they dock, they add to the payouts for above-average growers. 

The actual quality of a grower’s work is not what determines their pay. Rather, their pay is strictly a matter of where a grower falls compared to the other tournament group members. 

Because of this, a grower can almost never estimate their payout at the end of each flock. This is especially true because the integrator-controlled inputs can vary in quality, with big impacts on flock performance. In other words, integrators shift all the risk of substandard inputs onto growers. The growers then suffer in the tournament due to variables they have zero control over. 

Moreover, integrators keep growers in the dark about input variability. This allows integrators to retaliate against growers who speak out against the integrator. Growers who do so have been known to receive low quality inputs, ensuring they do poorly in the next tournament.

Together, these practices lead to wildly volatile incomes for growers. In fact, the range of incomes across U.S. poultry growers is wider than that among all other agricultural sectors and among U.S households. 

Poultry tournaments are a zero-sum game for growers, where there are always winners and losers. But like a rigged casino, the integrators always win. Because integrators transfer pay from below-average to above-average growers, they’re only ever paying for the average rate per flock. Integrators have profited handsomely from their growers’ precarity.

USDA’s Proposed Changes Fall Short Of Needed Systems Change

This year, USDA aims to tackle tournaments by strengthening its rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). Congress passed this century-old legislation to protect farmers and prevent abusive and monopolistic practices by meat processors. 

However, outdated regulations, incorrect interpretations in court and lax enforcement have weakened the PSA. As a result, exploitative practices have persisted throughout the industry, especially in the poultry sector.  

As part of these improvements, USDA has proposed a new rule meant to foster greater transparency in poultry contracts and tournaments. If issued, the rule would require integrators to disclose more information at the time of contracting. 

This essential information would include realistic ranges of expected earnings and minimum flock placements. Knowing these factors would help growers better understand what they’re signing up for. They could better decide whether to enter or remain in this risky and often abusive system. 

The rule would also require integrators to provide information about the variability and quality of inputs. That could help growers identify when inputs are being distributed in unfair, unjustly discriminatory or unduly preferential ways. 

But the proposed rule is not enough. Simply requiring integrators to disclose their control over a grower’s success will not stop their patently abusive contracting practices. USDA must also follow through on its commitment to prohibit the harmful practices themselves, as the PSA empowers them to do.

Moreover, processors have been able to abuse growers for so long in large part due to their extreme power over local and regional markets. Until recently, the four biggest poultry giants held 50% of the national market.

In response, the USDA has proposed a $200 million lending program to support small processors and increase competition. But $200 million will not make a dent in the market power held by the country’s poultry giants. This July, Cargill and Continental Grain (which owns Wayne Farms) announced they acquired Sanderson for $4.5 billion. Now, we can expect the Big Four’s market share to increase to 60%, tightening their grip on growers.

Food & Water Watch Is Fighting Big Poultry

Hyper-concentrated markets, like we have in factory farming, hurt farmers and families. Across the meat industry, growers’ share of profits have fallen while meat and poultry have become the largest contributor to our rising grocery bills. Giants like Cargill and Continental Grain rack up more cash while squeezing every penny from small growers and families. 

While greater transparency in the poultry industry is a welcome first step toward addressing these problems, USDA can and must do more. 

The Department has signaled its intent to issue future rules on the tournament system and on specific practices that violate the PSA. In the months to come, our lawyers will be working to ensure that USDA issues strong rules that actually protect growers. We submitted our comments on the proposed transparency rule in August, and will continue engaging in the public process on other PSA updates throughout the fall.  

Everyone needs to know: Poultry giant shouldn’t get away with abuse.

Western Drought Isn’t Going Anywhere. It’s Time to Rethink Water Use.


Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

You wouldn’t know it by the water use in much of the Western U.S., but the region is mired in its worst drought in over 1200 years. Driven by the climate crisis, more than half of the West is in exceptional, extreme or severe drought. Only 17% of the West is experiencing normal conditions. 

This is bad news for our water supplies. Reservoir levels in California and across the West have sunk to historic lows. For instance, the Colorado River system provides water for 40 million people. Its two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are just 26 and 27% full, respectively. 

This drought isn’t going away anytime soon. One study projects a 75% chance that it lasts through 2030. But if climate change escalates unabated, dry conditions could last even longer. 

It’s time for our elected leaders to take a hard look at the biggest water abusers and drivers of climate change. It’s time to take on big agribusiness and the fossil fuel industry. 

The Fossil Fuel Industry Drives Drought While Abusing Our Water

We know that climate change is driving drought and Big Oil drives climate change. Yet in the West, oil and gas keep flowing, as do permit approvals for more drilling. 

In California and New Mexico, for example, the very industries driving the drought continue to flourish. California is the seventh-largest oil-producing state. New Mexico, meanwhile, is the third-largest producer of oil and a top-ten producer of natural gas. 

On top of climate-changing carbon emissions, oil and gas production uses a huge amount of water. In California, the oil and gas industry has used over 3 billion gallons of water since 2018. That’s enough water for nearly 150,000 people for a year. 

Plus, wastewater from drilling can pollute limited fresh water supplies. The industry has even dumped its wastewater into clean aquifers. 

Thirsty Crops And Factory Farms Make Matters Worse

Another culprit behind the megadrought: Big Ag. In the West, thirsty farms abound. Agriculture makes up 80% of California’s water use, most of it industrial. We see this pattern in other Western states like New Mexico and Oregon, too. 

The West’s agriculture industries are so thirsty in part due to water-intensive crops that aren’t suited for our dry climate. Of California’s 80% freshwater used for agriculture, 20% goes to water-intensive tree nuts. 60% of these crops, like almonds and pistachios, are exported abroad.  

Similarly, 16% of that agricultural water goes to growing alfalfa — another water intensive crop, some of which is exported. In New Mexico, it’s the same story: Big Ag uses scarce water resources to grow alfalfa for hay, 30% of which it exports. 

Much of what Big Ag doesn’t export, it uses to support factory farms. These operations also suck up large amounts of water while causing massive amounts of water and air pollution. 

In Oregon, there are 11 mega-dairies with over 2500 cows each. Combined, they consume 8.2 million gallons of water a day just for drinking and washing. This doesn’t even include the water used to grow feed. All this water could meet the average daily indoor water needs of over 124,000 Oregonians. 

In New Mexico, mega-dairies (500 head or more) use over 32 million gallons a day. And in California, mega-dairies use a whopping 142 million gallons a day. That’s enough water for every resident of San Diego and San Jose combined. 

At the same time, factory farms produce huge amounts of waste, polluting air and water and contributing to climate change. Those 11 Oregon mega-dairies produce emissions equivalent to that of 318,000 passenger vehicles

Agriculture is critical and we need to produce food to feed people. But we also need a sustainable food system that works in our current environment.  

Droughts Hurt Communities, Especially Those Already Disadvantaged

These water abuses and the droughts they cause are hurting communities across the West. For example, the drought has caused salmon runs to collapse in California. This significantly impacts the Indigenous communities that have long relied on salmon fisheries. The devastated fisheries, along with limited water and disputed allocations, hits these communities especially hard.

Moreover, the drought contributes to the water scarcity crisis that threatens access to clean drinking water. Hundreds of wells are running dry, while water pollution intensifies. These two factors threaten the human right to safe, accessible, affordable water. In California alone, over a million people lack reliable access to clean water. 

We Need Accountability For Water-Abusing Corporations. Not More Energy-Intensive Projects.

To meet our water needs, elected officials and their appointees must take on these industries. They must also reform water rights and allocations to prioritize the human right to water and protect our water as a public trust resource. 

Moreover, elected officials can conserve our water supplies by stopping permits for new fossil fuel projects and factory farms. Rules and legislation can further rein in senseless water uses in a dry climate that will only get drier. 

Many of the West’s water systems, from California’s aqueducts to the Colorado River system, were established during historically wet conditions. Now, we have swung in the other direction. 

Our governors, state legislators and Congressmembers will need to revisit old assumptions and adapt to our new reality. That means moving toward renewable energy and sustainable farming, while centering water as a human right. 

Unfortunately, some are doing the opposite. Governor Newsom in California, for example, just announced his water plan. While it contains some good measures around stormwater capture and water efficiency, it doubles down on an industrial model. It calls for more dams, a costly and destructive water tunnel and a buildout of ocean desalination plants by gutting regulations. 

These facilities are not only unnecessary — they’re energy-intensive and bad for the ocean environment, too. 

This approach also sidesteps the root of the problem: big corporate water abusers. We won’t see improvements in our water crisis until those in office face down water abusers and rebalance our water system. 

We don’t need energy-intensive and expensive industrial tech fixes. Rather, we need to aggressively transition off fossil fuels and factory farms and towards a renewable and sustainable future. 

Spread the word: A sustainable water future means stopping abuses by Big Ag and Big Oil!

Pandemic Profiteering: How Corporations Are Capitalizing on the Crisis


Food SystemClimate and Energy

by Peter Hart and Mia DiFelice
Editor’s Note: This content originally appeared on Food & Water Action’s website (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

From the beginning of the COVID crisis, corporate oligarchs manipulated markets to maximize profits. The giants that control the meat industry stoked bogus fears of a shortage to jack up prices on consumers — with lies so egregious that we filed suit against one of the worst offenders, pork giant Smithfield.

Of course, the problems mounted. Inflation spiked across the economy. Shops swung between long waits and huge shortages. Big companies blamed supply chain shocks and increasing production costs, which were certainly part of it.

But when a handful of corporations control markets, they can essentially name their price — and shovel obscene profits to CEOs and Wall Street speculators.

Oil Companies Are Winning

The squeeze on working families intensified with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Suddenly, global dependence on fossil fuels reached a breaking point. U.S. gasoline prices soared while gas supplies to Europe plunged into chaos. 

In response, politicians and their media enablers demanded a dramatic increase in fracking. But energy giants quietly rebuffed these drilling demands. Not for any new concern for the environment — but rather because they are pulling in billions in record profits. Twisted market logic meant that limiting supply would pay off for their Wall Street investors.

From January to March this year, CEOs of eight fossil fuel corporations saw their share values grow by nearly $100 million. Windfall profits have not resulted in lower prices or better conditions for workers. Instead, these CEOs sold their shares for millions of personal profit.

The horror in Ukraine has created a new global energy crisis. Unfortunately, too many political leaders are clinging to the wrong solution. They want to “fix” a fossil fuel crisis by pushing more fossil fuels. That political support has given frackers a license to spring for long-term gas export terminals. American company EQT even called their mega-polluting gas export scheme “the Largest Green Initiative On the Planet.”

As a result, 25 new LNG projects are currently underway in our country. Fossil fuel companies are not only profiteering from today’s misery — they’re locking us into decades of pollution and emissions. We can’t let this continue. The International Energy Agency warned just last year that fossil fuel production must stop growing immediately if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change. 

Cornering the Market at The Supermarket

At the start of the pandemic, broadcasts and news feeds were fixated on one recurring image: empty grocery store shelves. Periodic shortages kept some consumers on our toes, while many were simply forced to go without.

As with oil and gas, we face giant corporations that would rather gobble profits than prioritize the needs of families. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the cost of meat rise while small farmers’ and ranchers’ profits fell. While COVID ran rampant, we saw corporations limit hazard pay for workers, while investing in stock buybacks to line the pockets of executives.

The meat industry is one of the core players in this problem. A mere four corporations process 85% of all beef and 70% of pork in the U.S. This extreme concentration gives these companies the power to control supply chains, prices and wages. Experts suspect they’re using inflation and supply chain problems as a cover to boost profits. In fact, net profit margins for those top four companies are up over 300%.

Plus, lean supply chains in any industry are dangerous for crises. With one disaster, a few broken links send huge ripples throughout a system without the backups and resilience to recover. For example, a COVID outbreak in a single Smithfield hog plant took out 5 percent of the nation’s hog processing capacity. 

Corporations Are Selling Us Misery

It’s never been clearer: When the essentials for life itself are controlled by corporate cartels, the future of our communities, our families and our planet are at their mercy. For decades, corporate America has told us that bigger is better, that consolidation would lower prices and eliminate inefficiencies. 

We know this is a lie. 

The latest heartbreaking example: the wealthiest nation on Earth is running out of baby formula because of problems at a single factory, thanks to a market controlled by four corporations.

At Food & Water Watch, we know that these problems have solutions. That’s why we’re fighting to break up the grocery cartels and stop corporate water profiteers. It’s why we’re demanding an end to the polluting factory farms that harm communities and farmers. Why we fight on the ground across the country to stop the fossil fuel projects driving the climate emergency. In an era of compounding crises, we must fight to transform the present and protect the future.

We can’t fight Corporate America without you.

How Biogas Factories Could Put Our Lowest State Underwater


Climate and Energy

by Greg Layton

We know we’re running out of time on climate change. Without a rapid drawdown on fossil fuels, catastrophic effects of global warming will become unavoidable. But in Delaware, the poultry industry and its allies are going in the opposite direction. They’re promoting a new fuel: methane derived from poultry waste. Rather than reduce emissions, biogas will only worsen the climate effects, like sea-level rise, for our country’s lowest-lying state.

Biogas Will Lock in Climate-Warming Emissions

Plans to extract methane from poultry waste in Sussex County threaten to add to  greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.

Delaware currently faces two proposed projects, one by Bioenergy DevCo and one by CleanBay Renewables. These projects would release massive amounts of methane, the greenhouse gas 90 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Emissions from the Bioenergy DevCo project alone would have the same per-year climate impact of a typical car driving 71 million miles

Poultry waste itself doesn’t emit significant amounts of methane. However, the biogas projects planned for Delaware deliberately create new greenhouse gases to “capture” for profit. To do that, they need to haul in factory farm waste from around the tri-state area. All that means more emissions, to the tune of more than 20,000 diesel-powered truck trips per year. 

On top of that, it appears that the methane from Bioenergy DevCo would not be used instead of fracked gas; it would be used in addition to fracked gas. This will entrench fossil fuels in addition to factory farms, while allowing the industry to slap the “renewable” label on the same old climate-destroying gas system.

Without serious climate action, here’s what Delawareans can expect.

Hotter Weather

The average temperature in Delaware has risen about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. Within 50 to 60 years, scientists expect the state’s average temperature to exceed its preindustrial average by more than 4 degrees. Extremely hot days will likely also increase. Currently, Delawareans experience an average of two days over 100 degrees each year, but scientists predict we’ll experience as many as 28 days above 100 degrees by 2100. Heat waves are already the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States, and climate change will only make them worse.

Sea-Level Rise

Melting polar ice sheets have caused the world’s oceans and bays to rise, and Delaware, already the lowest-lying state in the nation, is sinking at the same time. (In fact, sea level is rising at Bowers Beach, Del. faster than anywhere else on the East Coast.) Sea level along Delaware’s coasts has already risen more than one foot since 1900. With continued warming, Delaware’s coasts will likely disappear under anywhere from 16 to 48 inches in the next century.

Property Loss

If Delaware’s coastal sea levels rise even two feet, the state will lose about 8% of its land (a little over 110,000 acres) and nearly all of its protected wetlands.  Dozens — if not hundreds — of homes would be destroyed. Currently, about 22,000 Delawareans are at risk from coastal flooding, but that number could surpass 30,000 in just a few decades. Millions of dollars of damage are almost inevitable, and would be devastating to Delaware’s beachside tourism industry.

Pests and Disease 

Climate change will warm the state earlier in the year and bring more rain — and more puddles. This is like rolling out a welcome mat for mosquitos. Though already, researchers estimate that Delaware’s mosquito season has extended weeks beyond its historical average. And more mosquitoes means more opportunity for blood-borne diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus to spread. 

Ecological Mayhem

Finally, climate change will displace wildlife and their habitats. For instance, each spring, nearly a million migratory shorebirds feast on horseshoe crab eggs in tidal flats and beaches. But those tidal flats and beaches will likely disappear underwater. 

Additionally, rising sea levels will bring salt water further up rivers, eventually intruding into aquifers near the coast. Soils might become too salty for crops and trees that currently grow in low-lying areas. Upland, early warm weather could prompt many wildflowers and woodland plants to grow and blossom too soon for the migratory animals that feed on them. 

How You Can Fight Back

Ultimately, we must transition off of carbon-based fuels like methane as quickly as possible. Pursuing new sources is unconscionable. Delaware’s elected officials must instead urgently pursue real solutions to the climate crisis. Biogas has no part in that solution.

The companies behind the biogas scheme need state permits to go ahead with their dirty projects. Governor John Carney has the power to say NO to biogas. Use your voice to tell him that Delaware doesn’t need another source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tell Governor Carney that Delaware is done with greenhouse gases.

Sussex County Council Approves Up to $60 Million in Bonds to Cover Bioenergy DevCo Costs


Climate and Energy

Georgetown, DE — Today, the Sussex County Council voted to approve up to $60 million in Private Activity Bonds to cover construction and other costs associated with Bioenergy DevCo’s recently approved biogas scheme. The vote came one week after the Council voted to approve a conditional use permit for the industrial gas production facility to be sited near Seaford in an agricultural-residential zone, despite an outpouring of public opposition.

In order to build their massive gas production and refining project, Bioenergy DevCo will need to secure numerous state pollution permits. If permitted, this Sussex County factory farm gas facility will be the company’s first in Delaware and their fourth project in the United States since joining forces with Italy-based BTS Biogas to enter the US market. A portion of the $60 million in private activity bonds will be exempt from federal income taxes, meaning taxpayers will subsidize the start-up costs of the dirty gas facility, rather than go toward projects that directly benefit County residents. The site is located in a community where a third of the residents currently live below the poverty line. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote confirms one of our worst suspicions — that taxpayers will subsidize the cost of this polluting facility, all to assure venture capitalists a ready profit. The hundreds of residents who expressed public opposition to the biogas scheme should have been considered in the decision to issue the tax exempt bonds, which are limited in supply, to fund the very project they opposed. Governor Carney must stop this project in its tracks, and direct the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to deny Bioenergy DevCo its pollution permits.”

Smithfield Claims To Be ‘Sustainable’ While Making Its Heavy Pollution Extra Profitable


Food System

by Tyler Lobdell

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

Instead of cleaning 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, Smithfield is 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 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 and that it is a sustainability leader and climate champion. It’s 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 put a stop to 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, with factory farms and processing facilities throughout the country that rack up dozens of environmental violations every year. This is why Smithfield has been hit with tens of millions of dollars in damages as 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, recognizing 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 anaerobic digesters to produce so-called “biogas.” These digesters are tanks or lagoons that create an oxygen-free environment where microbes eat part of Smithfield’s manure and emit a mixture of gases, mostly methane and carbon dioxide, that the digester captures. This factory farm biogas can then be refined and burned just like fossil natural gas. Far from showing a “longstanding commitment to sustainability,” as Smithfield claims, building new factory farms and entrenching its irresponsible waste mismanagement to extract biogas only perpetuates the myriad harms caused by its factory farm production model. In fact, Smithfield’s digesters can make its waste even more harmful to waterways than what it started with.

What Smithfield is really doing is doubling down on its legacy of extreme pollution, because its factory farm biogas scheme fundamentally depends on the worst parts of how it has chosen to produce its pork products on the cheap. Smithfield promotes digesters as reducing its methane emissions and producing “renewable” energy, but 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” (pictured in the image above during a flood). In contrast, when animal manure breaks down naturally, on a pasture for example, it does not generate methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is 90 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period. Simply put, Smithfield misleadingly tells consumers its pork is environmentally friendly and that it is a leader in sustainability because it is slapping a bandaid over the climate destroying pollution that it deliberately created in the first place. But we aren’t letting this deception go unanswered.

Taking the Smithfield Greenwashing Case to the Federal Trade Commission

Food & Water Watch and a coalition of environmental and sustainable, family farming groups* have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) calling for enforcement of federal law against Smithfield’s false and misleading marketing. Under the FTC Act, companies are prohibited from promoting 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 $11 billion in revenue in 2020, so it can afford to clean up its act and transition away from the factory farm model that takes such a tremendous toll on the environment and local communities. But 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.



Food System

Winning real solutions

The change we need won’t happen by slapping a bandaid on the problems caused by corporations.

We were the first national org calling to ban factory farms — we’re closer than ever to winning. 



Food System

Factory farms make us sick

The damage caused by factory farms is insidious and affects everyone.

Factory farms are responsible for a rise in antibiotic resistance.

The True Price of a $4.99 Rotisserie Chicken


Food System

Forbes recently named Costco to its list of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies most loved by liberals. Maybe that’s because Costco CEO Craig Jelinek has championed important causes like a livable wage and company sponsored health benefits. The company’s starting pay is above the federal minimum wage—$13.00 per hour, and the average employee wage is $21 per hour. Nearly 88 percent of employees have company sponsored health benefits. At the height of the recession Costco actually gave raises to help struggling employees.

And yet, despite this commitment to social responsibility, Costco is about to venture into vertical integration and contract farming—a system that is the antithesis of fair. Why? Because Costco sells a lot of rotisserie chickens. So many, in fact, that they’re planning to build their very own chicken slaughterhouse in Fremont, Nebraska where they will slaughter 85 million chickens annually—or about 1.7 million per week. Where will the chickens come from?

Factory farms. And they’re planning to sign up farmers under a contract growing system.

What’s wrong with this? Well, where do we begin…

As Nebraska Communities United points out, this is not your grandparent’s farm. In a system of vertical integration (how the vast majority of chicken is produced in the U.S.) the “integrator” (usually a company like Tyson or Perdue) delivers the chicks and feed and dictates farm operations through a contract. They often require the growers to build and continually upgrade expensive barns to keep obtaining contracts. Farmers generally take out loans lasting more than a decade to pay for this expensive infrastructure, but the contracts are often flock-to-flock, meaning a grower only has guarantee of income for six or seven weeks at a time. The poultry sector is less like a free market than abject serfdom. Contracts are often unfair or abusive and farmers often have no legal recourse against integrators as John Oliver helped expose in this scathing piece on the poultry industry.

Factory farms like the 100 farms Costco plans to have raise its birds also produce a lot of waste which is spread on farmland at levels far exceeding what is needed to fertilize crops. The contract farms are likely to be constructed upstream from the cities of Lincoln and Omaha—and their drinking water supplies. But evidence of the problems factory farms pose isn’t hard to find. Next door in Iowa, the Des Moines Water Works is in a years-long struggle to treat its water for nitrites discharged from the thousands of factory hog farms in counties upstream. And the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma sued upstream chicken producers in Arkansas for polluting its water, resulting in a legal battle that lasted for years.

Since lots of factory farms are exempt from permitting that would protect communities from waste, pollution often runs unchecked into nearby waterways—where it becomes a costly source of contamination in our drinking water supplies. Cheaper rotisserie chicken just simply isn’t worth the cost of healthy drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.

We’ve seen this again and again: Corporations, even ones that try to do well by consumers, workers and the environment, fall down when it comes to sourcing their products. But if Costco wants to live up to its progressive bona fides, factory farming isn’t the way to do it.

Ultimately, we need to call on our elected officials to do their jobs: protecting the public’s health. The Lincoln City Council and the mayor need to take action to stop this slaughterhouse, and the City of Omaha should take a hard look at these issues as well—sooner rather than later.