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Global pork giant Smithfield Foods makes a lot of claims about the environmental sustainability of its products and hog production system. This week, IATP joined a legal petition submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), charging that Smithfield makes false and misleading claims about the sustainability of its pork production and the company’s environmental record. 

The FTC filing, led by Food & Water Watch, documents Smithfield’s claims about environmental stewardship in contrast to the company’s record of environmental violations. Smithfield, owned by the Chinese company WH Group, is the third-largest water polluter in the U.S., and in 2019 the company was issued at least 66 notices of violations of environmental protection laws, according to the filing. In September, Smithfield contractors were fined for manure spills in North Carolina. In 2018 and 2019, Smithfield was fined for water pollution violations at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant. Smithfield has lost five different nuisance lawsuits related to odor and air pollution in North Carolina filed by neighbors in largely African American rural communities.

Smithfield operations in North Carolina also are at particular risk for severe climate-related weather events like hurricanes, but the company has yet to adequately disclose that climate risk. Some of those operations experienced manure lagoon spills into waterways when hurricanes hit the region over the last several years.

In 2018, IATP reported on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of Smithfield through our Emissions Impossible report. We estimated the company emitted 30 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year globally — or 12th in the world among global meat and dairy companies.

Smithfield has attempted to blunt criticism of air pollution and GHG emissions by working with the natural gas industry giant Dominion Energy to install methane digestors on its hog lagoons to generate factory farm gas to feed into pipelines. But the petition makes clear that factory farm gas does not address the core problems with Smithfield’s hog production system and the associated water and air pollution — and in fact, by incentivizing more manure production, it may make these issues worse.

Not covered in the petition is Smithfield’s treatment of workers, particularly during the pandemic. The company’s meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, SD was one of the nation’s first meatpacking COVID-19 hotspots. The company was slow to provide protective gear, share testing data with the public or workers and allow workers paid sick leave, as well as resisted labor inspections.

The FTC filing asks the agency to investigate and take enforcement action against Smithfield by requiring it to remove misleading claims, and to prohibit the company from making similar misrepresentations in the future. In addition to IATP, joining Food & Water Watch in filing the petition are Cape Fear River Watch, Dakota Rural Action, Family Farm Action Alliance, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Pennsylvania Farmers Union and Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.