The Saga Continues: Smithfield Pork Responds

Last week I wrote a piece in the Atlantic about HSUS’s decision to file a complaint against Smithfield Foods for its claim that the pork it supplies to McDonald’s was raised according to the highest welfare standards. [http://www.theatlantic.com/life/archive/2011/11/mcfib-the-conditions-at-mcdonalds-mcrib-pork-supplier/247779/]

When I was researching my story I called Smithfield for a comment. They asked for my e-mail and sent me a generic, and totally useless, response, which you can read below in my previous post. After the story ran, however, I received the following letter from Smithfield. I plan to speak at length with this representative, as, judging from an e-mail exchange, he seems both sincere and impassioned. For now, though, here is the response: 

 

Dear Mr. McWilliams:

I want to advise you that your Nov. 3 The Atlantic posting, “McFib? The Conditions at McDonald’s McRib Pork Supplier”, unfortunately was based on misleading, inaccurate and outdated information provided by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which continues to spread misinformation about Smithfield Foods despite our best efforts to enlighten the organization about our animal care programs.

 I couldn’t help noticing that HSUS didn’t mention that in the wake of its 2010 video a Smithfield Foods committee and third-party animal care experts Dr. Temple Grandin and Jennifer Woods conducted separate investigations of our animal care procedures.

 As a result of their findings, three employees were terminated for violating our company’s industry-leading Animal Care Policy. In addition, our company implemented several recommendations from Dr. Grandin and Ms. Woods to further enhance and strengthen our animal care procedures. Among the recommendations, we have conducted retraining of our employees on the proper handling of our animals, and we re-emphasized to our employees that Smithfield Foods has zero tolerance for any behavior that does not conform to our established animal care procedures. Willful neglect or abuse of animals is not tolerated, and will result in immediate termination.

 Simply put, when mistakes are made or violations of our policies occur, we correct them.

Our farm managers and veterinarians take good care of our animals because they are the reason we are in business, and we do everything we can to ensure they are safe, comfortable and healthy. It’s the right thing to do, and it is integral to our company’s success.

You’ve also repeated an inaccurate HSUS claim that we have “rescinded” our goal of phasing out gestation stalls at our company-owned sow farms in favor of group housing by 2017. However, we remain committed to reaching that target.  

In fact, our commitment has never wavered, as evidenced by our progress in converting 30 percent of our sows to group housing by the end of 2011, and our commitment to spend more than $300 million to achieve our stated goal. Your readers can read about our progress at www.smithfieldcommitments.com. While the dramatic economic downturn of three years ago temporarily slowed our efforts in phasing out gestation stalls, we have always steadfastly stood by our commitment to ultimately achieve this goal.

 Beyond that, we are very proud that our concerted social responsibility efforts during the past decade have resulted in noteworthy third-party recognition. Most significantly, we were the first in our industry to achieve ISO 14001 environmental certification for all of our U.S. hog production and pork processing facilities. ISO 14001 is the international gold standard for environmental management. In addition, Smithfield Foods has been consistently named to FORTUNE magazine’s prestigious annual list of America’s Most Admired Companies. Companies are rated on eight criteria, from investment value to social responsibility.

 At the same time, let me quickly underscore that we’re not saying that we’re perfect. We have made mistakes in the past, but we have learned from them and we have redoubled our efforts to behave in a socially responsible manner. This is a journey, but we think we’re on the right track.

 Sincerely,

 Dennis H. Treacy

Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer

Smithfield Foods, Inc.

 

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McFib: HSUS Goes after McDonald’s “Epic Story”

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the news: the McRib is back! “Even your dreams dream about this,” says McDonald’s about the return of this “fantastically flavorful,” “sweetly scrumptious,” “sensationally savory” pork sandwich.  Further distinguishing the McRib is the implication that the pork comes from happy pigs raised under humane and sustainable conditions.  McDonald’s buys its pork from Smithfield Foods, which employs Dr. Temple Grandin as an animal welfare advisor and, perhaps as a result, brands itself as “100 percent committed to . . . animal care.” In an outburst of appreciation for the work Smithfield does, McDonald’s recently recognized the Virginia-based company with a “supplier sustainability” award.[http://www.smithfieldfoods.com/our_company/about_us.aspx]

But the Humane Society of the United States isn’t celebrating.  Earlier today HSUS filed a legal complaint with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Smithfield is misleading consumers about its welfare practices. [http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/farm/smithfield_sec_complaint110211.pdf] In a series of videos titled “Taking the Mystery out of Pork Production,” Smithfield contends that its animals are raised under “ideal” conditions in an environment where “every need is met.” A 2010 undercover HSUS investigation, however, revealed information altogether to the contrary.   [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BK9tUYkRh2Q]

HSUS found that Smithfield pigs were living in hellish conditions where basic needs were systematically denied. Female pigs were stuffed into Gestation crates, preventing movement for most of their lives; many crates were coated in blood from the mouths of pigs chewing the metal bars of their crates; a sick pig was shot in the head with a captive bolt gun and thrown into a dumpster while still alive; prematurely born piglets routinely fell through the gate’s slats into a manure pit; castration and tail docking took place without anesthesia; and employees tossed baby pigs into carts as if they were stuffed animals. The investigator saw many lame pigs but never a vet.     [http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2010/12/smithfield_pigs_121510.html}

The curious thing is that both McDonald’s and Smithfield know that gestation crates are bad news for a pig. Temple Grandin, as an advisor to Smithfield, declared that the crates “have to go,” and in 2007 Smithfield agreed to phase out the crates by 2017. The company has since rescinded this promise.  In a company video, McDonald’s admitted that group housing “is best for the welfare and well-being of those sows.” None of this has been lost on Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at HSUS. “It doesn’t take a veterinarian to know that locking a 500-pound animal in a cage so cramped she can’t even turn around for on end isn’t exactly ‘ideal,’” he explains. McDonald’s, he adds, “should heed the advice of its own animal welfare advisors and dump gestation crates from its supply chain.”

In the meantime (actually, for all time), the rest of us should just say no to the McRib.