Smithfield responds to HSUS legal complaint

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – One day after Smithfield Foods launched its new corporate responsibility website earlier this week, the US Securities and Exchange Commission received a legal complaint from The Humane Society of the United States alleging Smithfield is making false and misleading claims to shareholders and consumers about its corporate responsibility practices in violation of federal securities law. Meanwhile, Smithfield is reviewing this complaint and a spokesperson told MEATPOULTRY.com, “The HSUS allegations are wholly without merit.”

HSUS’ complaint charges the company’s claims — made in a video series titled Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production — falsely convey Smithfield has higher animal welfare and environmental standards than it actually does. The complaint further alleges the videos are deceptive in their depiction of Smithfield’s use of antibiotics in animal feed. Federal securities law prohibits making any false statement of a material fact or the omission of a material fact that would prevent a statement from being misleading, HSUS said.

“Smithfield’s attempt to mislead its shareholders about animal welfare adds insult to the injuries inflicted daily on the animals confined in its facilities,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “Smithfield cannot shirk its responsibility to stakeholders and animals by simply offering false claims about providing ‘ideal’ living conditions.”

HSUS charged that in Smithfield’s videos, the company claims it provides animals with “ideal” living conditions and that their animals’ “every need is met,” despite the fact the vast majority of its breeding sows are confined in gestation crates — metal cages that virtually immobilize animals for nearly their entire lives. Smithfield also routinely castrates animals and cuts portions of their tails off without administering painkillers, HSUS said.

The videos also include false and misleading claims about an environmental certification from the International Organization of Standards and misleading claims of “organic” agriculture, HSUS claimed.

“The HSUS allegations are wholly without merit and appear to be another in a series of frivolous attacks initiated by HSUS against our business aimed at distracting us from our mission and pressuring us to accelerate the phase out of individual gestation pens—something we are already committed to doing,” a Smithfield spokesperson responded. “We are proud of our unparalleled track record as a sustainable food producer and stand confidently behind our company’s public statements concerning animal care and environmental stewardship.

“Our progress in these areas is clearly documented on our website and in our Corporate Social Responsibility Report, including the fact that 30 percent of sows at our company-owned farms will be in group housing by the end of 2011,” the spokesperson added. “The well-being of all our animals is one of our highest priorities, which is why we consistently seek input from our customers, consumers, experts in animal husbandry, veterinarians and animal behavior specialists.

“Our concerted social responsibility efforts during the past decade have resulted in third-party recognition that we are very proud of,” she continued. “Most significantly, we were the first in our industry to achieve ISO 14001 environmental certification for all of our US hog production and pork processing facilities. ISO 14001 is the international gold standard for environmental management.

“In addition, Smithfield Foods has been consistently named to FORTUNE magazine's prestigious annual list of America's Most Admired Companies. We welcome all who are interested in learning more about our company’s corporate social responsibility practices. Any objective assessment of our practices would conclude that Smithfield and our employees are behaving in a socially responsible manner,” the spokesperson concluded. 

Smithfield Foods' response to its consumers regarding the HSUS complaint is available online.
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