Smithfield COVID Claims Case Continues

Court Denies Smithfield Motion to Dismiss Case Alleging Company Misled Consumers

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A superior court in Washington, D.C., denied Smithfield Foods Inc.'s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the company misled consumers about plant worker safety and the meat supply during the COVID-19 shutdown. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A lawsuit that alleges Smithfield Foods Inc. misled consumers about the state of the meat supply chain and packing plant worker safety during COVID-19 will continue, as a superior court judge in Washington, D.C., denied a Smithfield motion to dismiss the case.

Smithfield is one of the largest pork-processing companies in the world. The lawsuit filed by Food and Water Watch in Superior Court in the District of Columbia in June 2021 alleges Smithfield violated D.C.'s Consumer Protection Procedures Act 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."

The meat supply chain was disrupted in spring of 2020 as packing plants across the country were forced to shut down operations as COVID-19 spread.

Food and Water Watch alleged in the lawsuit Smithfield violated D.C.'s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. As much as 3 million hogs were not slaughtered on time in the spring of 2020 as processing capacity shrunk across the country.

In response to DTN's request for comment, a Smithfield spokesman said, "This remains a pending legal matter so it would be premature to comment."

Smithfield closed its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, pork plant in April 2020 after more than 80 of its 3,700 employees tested positive for the virus.

Food and Water Watch has alleged the company "mounted a distinctly aggressive public-relations campaign geared toward leveraging the pandemic" to grow profits.

As part of the lawsuit, the group alleged Smithfield "misrepresented working conditions" at its packing plants "in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns" for plant workers.

The group said Smithfield has conducted an advertising and social media campaign to assure consumers that company workers are "protected from the hazards" of COVID-19 and to warn about crimped meat supplies.

"However, Smithfield's messaging could not be further from the truth," the lawsuit said.

The National Pork Producers Council told DTN more than 40% of pork-production capacity was down in 2020 during the peak of the COVID-19 shutdown.

As a result of the disruption to the meat supply chain, there have been calls to expand harvest capacity. The Biden administration has been providing federal funding to expand slaughter capacity through providing incentives for building smaller processing plants.

Read more on DTN:

"Smithfield Sued on COVID-19 Claims," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley