SMITHFIELD, Va. – Two weeks after filing a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission over what it’s calling Smithfield Foods’ “misleading claims about animal welfare”, the Humane Society of the United States has filed legal notice with Smithfield that it will exercise its right as a corporate shareholder to inspect company records regarding Smithfield’s alleged broken promise to stop confining sows in gestation crates on company-owned farms by 2017.

HSUS charges that most of Smithfield’s breeding sows are confined in gestation crates for nearly their entire lives. Smithfield responded to these charges saying in a statement there is no legal basis for this latest HSUS demand.

HSUS contends that in 2007, Smithfield pledged to end its use of gestation crates at company-owned facilities within 10 years. But HSUS said in 2009, citing economic reasons, Smithfield withdrew its timeline. C. Larry Pope, Smithfield CEO, assured HSUS a modified deadline would be reinstated once there was a recovery.

HSUS claims Smithfield has refused to institute a deadline or offer a reason for its failure to live up to its commitments.

HSUS said in a news release it has repeatedly asked Smithfield to verify its conversion numbers and reveal how the figures were calculated, but claims Smithfield has refused to provide any substantiating data despite making numerous recent public statements extolling its own transparency.

As a result, HSUS said it is exercising its right as a shareholder to inspect the corporate records and review the data directly.

“There is no legal basis for this demand made by HSUS to Smithfield,” countered Smithfield in a statement. “We believe this is yet another unsubstantiated attempt by this organization to support its cause.”

Smithfield Foods was the first major producer in the US pork industry (which includes more than 60,000 producers) to publicly commit to converting sow housing to group pens, the company pointed out. While the conversion slowed during the recent recession, the company publicly announced at Smithfield’s September 2010 shareholders’ meeting that significant resources had again been committed to the conversion.

“The conversion is ongoing, and we remain on track to have converted 30 percent of our company-owned sow farms to pen-style housing by the end of 2011. We will update our continuing progress and post that information on our websites,” Smithfield’s statement concluded.