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

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Food System

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.

3. WORKERS DESERVE SAFE CONDITIONS

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Food System

Workers deserve safe conditions

The well-being of food system workers directly affects us all.

Demanding that workers show up when sick puts us all at risk.

4. NOTHING’S SAFE IN INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE

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Food System

Nothing’s safe in industrial agriculture

Our food system would be safer for everyone if Big Ag weren’t controlling it.

Corporations keep agencies from properly inspecting our meat and endanger workers — all in the name of profits.

Fact-Checking Smithfield’s Coronavirus Food Shortage BS

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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.