June 12, 2009

A Response to Food, Inc.

In the past decade, food has become a contentious topic in many circles. What should we eat? Where should it come from and how should it be made? People are seriously contemplating the decisions they make during their weekly grocery run. And while our food system has grown significantly more transparent over the past few years, answering the question of "What's for dinner?" hasn't gotten any easier.

In fact, it's increasingly difficult to develop informed opinions in light of the proliferation of different ideologies and schools of thought, each proclaiming the "right" approach to responsible food production. Taking a critical look at all of the information about our food system can certainly help us to form our own conclusions, but only if we're willing to evaluate carefully "facts" and their sources. That way we're not mistaking harmful rumors and misinformation as true.

Food, Inc. is a great example. Directed by Robert Kenner and narrated by Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, the documentary has had a profound impact on public perceptions surrounding food and agriculture in recent years. However, Food, Inc. was not balanced in its content.

The project was well-intentioned, with the goal of helping consumers gain a better understanding of the food system, but many of the claims presented in the film were misleading or simply untrue, specifically in regard to its portrayal of Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield Foods was heavily criticized in Food, Inc., primarily for issues related to employee safety. Here are a few responses to the questions we're frequently asked about Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. does not paint an accurate portrait of how our company operates today. We are not perfect, but we're working tirelessly to become more sustainable and produce "Good food. Responsibly." To do so is a journey, but we think we're on the right track. We urge you to think for yourself. Challenge Food, Inc. by reviewing our responses, and then form your own opinions.


Why didn't you engage with the filmmakers of Food, Inc. during production to share your perspective?

We chose not to participate in Food, Inc. because we believed the filmmakers had already made up their minds on the subject matter, and felt that any facts we provided would be ignored because they did not support the film's agenda. We were also well-aware that they came to us after the film was nearly complete. That said, if we could do it again, we would probably have engaged with the makers of Food, Inc. because even though the portrayal of our company is completely false, our silence made it appear as though we had something to hide. In reality, we have nothing to hide and we urge you to visit www.smithfieldcommitments.com to learn more about our programs and to ask us questions.

How do you ensure the safety of your plant workers?

Meat production presents daily safety challenges—both for those who take care of the animals and for those who process the hogs into meat. Ensuring our employees' safety is one of our company's highest priorities. Our extensive safety systems and programs, which go well beyond federal and state regulatory requirements, yield measurable results and protect employees, while at the same time reducing our workers' compensation costs. Moreover, our employees believe in our safety programs, and are fully engaged in helping us achieve successful results. To read more on our safety programs, visit our Employee Safety page here (http://smithfieldcommitments.com/core-reporting-areas/employees/health-safety/injury-prevention-management/#behavioral-risk-open)

Don't you care about the animals you raise?

Yes, we do. We believe we have a moral obligation to protect and promote the well-being of our animals, and this, in turn, promotes the production of safe quality food. So, not only is it the right thing to do, but ensuring quality animal care is also good for our business. We are constantly reviewing our systems and procedures to enhance the comfort of our animals and minimize their stress. In fact, we were the first pork producer to develop and implement a comprehensive, systematic animal welfare management program to monitor and measure animal well-being. We are recognized as being an industry leader for how we care for our animals, and our willingness to proactively meet our customers' expectations by continually improving handling, production, transportation and slaughter methods for the benefit of the animals. And obviously, as a food producer the health and well-being of our animals is directly linked to our success as a company.

Does Smithfield hire illegal immigrants?

We never knowingly hire anyone who is not authorized to work in the U.S. We do everything that the law requires in confirming our employees' work authorization, and, in fact, we go even further. Smithfield Foods is enrolled in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's voluntary E-Verify program. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help enrolled employers confirm the employment authorization of new hires.

However, we and other employers face significant challenges in determining whether employees are authorized to work in the U.S. That's due to identity theft and readily available, high-quality forged identification documents that allow undocumented workers to thwart even the best hiring practices and skirt the laws.

We have many legal immigrants among our employees, and they all work very hard as a team to provide our customers and consumers with safe, nutritious, high-quality food. We find that immigrants have brought a richness and diversity to our local communities, and we're always eager to provide additional job opportunities for workers who can demonstrate they are in this country legally. In that regard, we rely on state and federal programs to help us verify the legal status of potential employees. We support U.S. immigration policy reform measures that would enhance job opportunities for legal workers.

The specific situation described in the movie Food, Inc. refers to a review in 2006 and 2007 of our employees' authorization to work in the U.S. by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE conducts such reviews of hundreds of companies' employees every year. By law, ICE has the right to conduct such reviews, and by law, as an employer, we are required to cooperate. ICE reviewed the identification of every one of the almost 5,000 employees at our Tar Heel, N.C., facility and determined that about 600 employees were not currently authorized to work in the U.S. These undocumented workers had used forged identities and identification to obtain a job. Because they were not authorized to work in the U.S., by law, we were required to fire them. In addition, ICE arrested about 50 of those employees for criminal violations beyond being in the U.S. illegally.

The penalties for knowingly hiring, or continuing to employ, persons not authorized to work in the U.S. are severe. Fines can range from $375 to $3,200 per undocumented worker for the first violation to as high as $16,000 per undocumented worker for subsequent violations. In addition, companies can be barred from selling to or providing services to the U.S. government for such violations. Lastly, several states have passed laws that allow the state to revoke a company's business license for such violations.

In the Tar Heel review, ICE did not find that we knowingly employed undocumented workers. Consequently, we did not pay any fines. However, we did suffer financial losses of at least a couple of million dollars due to lost productivity and the cost of replacing the 600 undocumented workers that we had to fire. The bottom line is that knowingly hiring undocumented workers is not good for business.

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