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USA: Smithfield Foods is sued over ‘false’ safety claims

Smithfield Foods was one of the first companies to warn that the US was in danger of running out of meat as coronavirus infections ripped through processing plants in April 2020 and health officials pressured the industry to halt some production to protect workers.

Now, a lawsuit filed by Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, accuses the giant pork producer of falsely stoking consumer fears. According to the suit, the nation was never in danger of running out of meat. Filed in Superior Court in Washington DC, the suit notes: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithfield has misled and continues to mislead consumers in the District of Columbia about the state of the national meat supply chain and the company’s workplace safety practices.”

Food and Water Watch states: “This fear mongering creates a revenue-generating feedback loop,” adding: “It stokes and exploits consumer panic — juicing demand and sales — and in turn, provides the company with a false justification to keep its slaughterhouses operating at full tilt, subjecting its workers to unsafe workplace health and safety conditions that have caused thousands of Smithfield workers to contract the virus.”

The company denies the charges. The meatpacking industry was a flash point during the pandemic as thousands of workers fell ill, with many dying. Smithfield and other companies mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to highlight their worker safety efforts and to emphasise the industry’s important role in feeding the nation. Despite these assertions, Food and Water Watch, which is represented in its lawsuit by legal advocacy group Public Justice, points out that Smithfield was cited by regulators for failing to adequately protect workers at its plants in California and South Dakota. 
Read more: Public Justice Food Project news release. Food and Water Watch versus Smithfield Food, Inc. [pdf], Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 16 June 2021. Source: Risks 1002

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