By Marissa Plescia, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

A consumer group is suing one the largest pork producers over allegations that the company falsely advertises its products as the “safest” in the U.S.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) filed a civil suit May 20 against Smithfield Foods, Inc., claiming they use practices that contribute to the creation of widespread diseases. The group is seeking to stop its ‘false’ advertising and marketing. 

Some of the practices include crowded conditions in their plants, the use of potentially carcinogenic drugs and rapid slaughter methods, according to a recent press release. These practices can lead to diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, OCA explained in the release.

In a May 26 statement, Smithfield denied those allegations.

“The Organic Consumers Association’s complaint against Smithfield Foods is totally without merit and the company intends to vigorously defend this lawsuit,” wrote Lisa Martin, director of corporate communications.

Smithfield Foods, Inc. is based out of Smithfield, Virginia, and is the world’s largest pork producer. Some of their brand names include Eckrich, Nathan’s Famous and Farmland.

“We are committed to providing good food in a responsible way and maintaining robust animal care, community involvement, employee safety, environmental, and food safety and quality programs,” Smithfield’s website states.

This lawsuit follows a recent report by the Animal Welfare Institute stating that over a three-year span, Smithfield Foods and JBS USA had the “worst animal welfare records among livestock slaughter plants.” 

The report said that the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had the largest number of animal welfare violations for a single plant.

According to the complaint filed by OCA, Smithfield uses social media and YouTube to promote their message of safe food production and targets an audience that’s particularly concerned with food safety.

OCA’s complaint also stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has notified Smithfield on numerous occasions that their pork is more likely to be contaminated with salmonella than other similar products from slaughter plants of the same size.

“Failure to report these notifications to consumers is one thing. But claiming that its products are the ‘safest’ possible pork products in the U.S. is a blatant misrepresentation of the brand’s actual safety record,” OCA Co-founder and Director Ronnie Cummins said in the release. “The current heightened consumer concern about safety in the meat industry is all the more reason to hold Smithfield accountable for false safety claims.”

The USDA found that Smithfield’s pork products contain pathogens often associated with human illnesses resistant to antibiotics, the release said. According to OCA, this is due to Smithfield’s use of antibiotics on healthy animals to prevent the spread of diseases that come from their plants’ allegedly crowded and unsanitary conditions.

This practice is cited by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization as one of the greatest health risks today because it can lead to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant diseases.

WHO stated on their website that these antibiotics should only be given to animals under veterinary supervision and that they should not be used to prevent diseases in healthy animals.

The release also stated that several of the disease strains found in Smithfield food products are resistant to antibiotics specifically deemed by the FDA as “highly important” or “critically important” for human health.

OCA further explained in their complaint that it was discovered in a 2018 undercover investigation that Smithfield doses its pigs with carbadox, a drug banned in the E.U. because of its potentially carcinogenic effects on humans. The FDA has also moved to ban the drug.

In addition to carbadox, OCA alleges that Smithfield uses a feed additive called ractopamine, which has negative effects on human kidney cells and the cardiovascular system. It has been banned by 122 countries, including China, Russia and the EU, the complaint said.

Martin wrote in the statement that Smithfield follows the rules stated in their Animal Care Management System and Antibiotic Use Policy.

“Consumers put their trust in Smithfield Foods every time they eat one of our products,” Martin wrote. “That’s why the safety and quality of our foods is fundamental to our success as a company. We also honor our commitment to consumers through strictly controlled use of antibiotics and care for our animals.”

OCA stated in its complaint that it seeks no monetary damages, only the end to Smithfield’s alleged false advertising and marketing.

This story is being republished by permission and was produced by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness,big ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Learn More »

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