Statement says ‘assertions’ have ‘grossly mischaracterized’ the company
Smithfield Foods has published a statement in response to what it calls “misinformation about the company” concerning its response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Reporting from many media outlets has been fair and balanced,” Smithfield said in the statement. “However, a few have made assertions and inferences that grossly mischaracterize the company, its values and its response to COVID-19.”
Among the topics addressed in the statement are:
- Why the company continues to operate during the pandemic
- Employee relations
- The company’s “Responsibility Bonus” for workers
- Processes, protocols and protective measures
- The COVID-19 outbreak at the company’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility
- Internal communications
“During this pandemic, our entire industry is faced with an impossible choice: continue to operate to sustain our nation’s food supply or shutter in an attempt to entirely insulate our employees from risk,” the statement said. “It’s an awful choice; it’s not one we wish on anyone. It is impossible to keep protein on tables across America if our nation’s meat plants are not running.”
Smithfield said it has many practices in place to protect its employees.
“We are doing everything in our power to help protect our team members from COVID-19 in the workplace. We moved quickly to implement an extensive array of COVID-19 protocols and practices,” the statement said. “Mitigating risk of COVID-19 transmission depends on implementing other aggressive actions, which have already been adopted companywide. We continue to actively monitor CDC guidance, as well as that of state and local health authorities, and are immediately taking all necessary actions to protect our employees.”
Employee seeks court injunction
The statement comes after an anonymous Smithfield employee in the company’s Milan, Missouri, facility, along with the Rural Community Workers Alliance, filed a federal lawsuit accusing Smithfield of contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
The suit accuses Smithfield of failing to provide workers with sufficient personal protective equipment, forcing them to work in a setting that does not allow for social distancing, not allowing sufficient time for hand washing, discouraging them from taking sick leave and failing to implement a COVID-19 testing and contact tracing plan.
The lawsuit seeks a court injunction that would force Smithfield to change its policies to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials.
A worker at an Illinois Smithfield Foods plant died after contracting COVID-19, the worker’s family said. Alicia Cruz, 64, worked at the Smithfield dry sausage facility in St. Charles, according to WLS-TV.
Smithfield, the largest pork processor in the U.S., has had to close at least four of its plants due to COVID-19, in addition to the St. Charles location. The other closures include those in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Cudahy, Wisconsin; Martin City, Missouri; and Monmouth, Illinois.
View our continuing coverage of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.