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.

Fact-Checking Smithfield’s Coronavirus Food Shortage BS


Food System

Big Ag’s biggest players benefit from making consumers think a food shortage is imminent if they’re made to shut down. Here are the facts.

A local Sioux Falls, South Dakota newspaper recently ran a heart-wrenching story about the first Smithfield worker to die of COVID-19. Louisa County, Iowa, home of Tyson Foods’ Columbus Junction processing plant, is now 10th in the country in the number of COVID-19 cases per resident; the plant has reported 140 cases among workers. Dozens of packing plants and slaughterhouses across the country are now closed due to the virus which has spread rapidly among workers.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Meat Processors Like Smithfield Wanted Workers To Show Up No Matter What

Meat processing facilities are already notoriously dangerous workplaces, and are even more so during this pandemic. Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Workers have reported a “work while sick” culture in many facilities, and Smithfield was literally offering workers in some plants a $500 “responsibility bonus” for not missing a day of work in April. And we know there’s no way for workers to exercise appropriate social distancing in their cramped working conditions. USDA is approving more and more requests to increase slaughter line speeds, and many plants do not offer paid time off for employees who are sick. All of these factors contribute to high transmission rates. All were completely avoidable.

And now that these facilities are closing, more and more each day, these giant corporate meatpackers are stoking fears of food shortages to advocate for premature reopening of facilities — again at the expense of workers.

Debunking Smithfield’s Claim That We’re Close To The Edge On Meat Supply

Is the closure of these slaughterhouses leaving us, as Smithfield claims, “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply”?

Nope. Not at all.

The meat industry is among the most highly consolidated industries in the country, raking in profits at the expense of rural communities, small farmers, and consumers. That this industry — which has gobbled up small family farms across the country leaving thousands of wrecked rural communities in their wake — would attempt to profit off of this pandemic should surprise no one. 

But something doesn’t seem quite right here.

The truth is, we have copious amounts of meat in cold storage around the country as a result of increased production, flat demand and the Trump Administration’s trade war. And we already overproduce for the sake of export — up to 30% of the pork produced in this country is destined for overseas markets but could be rerouted to shore up domestic supplies. Corporate agriculture is stoking fears of food scarcity to pressure officials, to allow them to reopen facilities quickly, and to protect their bottom line. Even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is in on it — carrying water for the industry as always.

But even the National Pork Producers Council, an industry group representing the interests of contract hog farmers across the country, acknowledged in a recent statement that “the loss of the food services market (i.e. restaurants) and the COVID-related slowdown in most export markets has crashed demand and overwhelmed the cold storage of meat.”

These giant multinational corporations are literally swimming in profit. China-based WH Group (which owns Smithfield) saw the value of their stock increase 32% in 2019. Tyson Foods, despite setbacks caused by a fire in a Kansas slaughterhouse, still saw a 9% growth in sales. Beef and pork exports were at record levels through February 2020 and U.S. broiler production was up 7.7% in January and February of 2020. 

We’ll say it louder for the people in the back: our meat supply is not at risk.

Why Would Smithfield And Other Corporations Scaremonger About Our Meat Supply? 

Is there a backup of animals on some farms that cannot be processed immediately due to slaughterhouse closures? Yes. Is there meat that had previously been destined for commercial purchasers that needs to be rerouted to grocery stores and food banks? Yes. But are we running out of meat? Definitely not. 

Corporations like Smithfield routinely choose profit over public health — their business model is built on it. Let’s be clear: they are pushing to prematurely reopen slaughterhouses and other processing facilities because their closure threatens the meat industry’s profits — NOT our country’s food supply. And this callousness and greed is causing food workers to die.

We Must Demand Slaughterhouses Be Free Of COVID-19 Cases To Operate

Slaughterhouses with cases of COVID-19 must close and immediately stay closed as long as there are COVID-19 cases in their plants.

We support the common sense demands of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and other groups that care about the safety of our workers and our food: packinghouse workers should be prioritized for testing, workers should be immediately provided with PPE and hazardous duty pay for the duration of the pandemic, there must be a halt on waivers to speed up production lines, and social distancing should be maintained when possible.

Companies must continue to pay workers for the duration of these shutdowns. And governors across the country should deploy the National Guard to supplement food distribution networks to help get (abundant) food supplies to people who need it now. These actions are necessary to protect workers health and food safety during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Your social network should see this.