Breaking: Court rules HSUS lawsuit against pork producer Smithfield can proceed

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on October 26, 2022 with 7 Comments

This week, a court rejected an attempt by Smithfield Foods to dismiss the Humane Society of the United States’ lawsuit against the company for misrepresenting to customers how it treats mother pigs in its pork supply chain. This ruling means our case can go forward to trial.

Like some other big pork companies, Smithfield uses gestation crates for the female pigs who produce litter after litter of piglets. Those piglets are raised and killed to produce the bacon, ham and other pork products found in stores and restaurants. These crates are barely larger than a pig’s body, and their use is incredibly harmful to the welfare of these intelligent, sensitive animals. The crates cage individual animals so tightly that the pigs are unable to even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward. As consumers have learned about this practice, they have rightfully started to demand an end to it.

Our lawsuit alleges that Smithfield has misrepresented to its consumers that it eliminated gestation crates for pigs in its supply chain. That is what Smithfield promised back in 2007, which we at the time applauded. Starting in 2018, Smithfield claimed to have achieved its promise by converting to a “group housing” system on its farms for mother pigs. In reality, Smithfield is using an approach that cycles mother pigs between crates and group housing, keeping pregnant pigs in immobilizing crates for weeks prior to “confirming” their pregnancy.

We believe it’s misleading to consumers for Smithfield to publicly claim it has met its promises, and to use our past support for its promises as a marketing tool, when it continues to lock mother pigs in inhumane gestation crates. In response to our lawsuit, Smithfield argued that in some company statements it had described its continued confinement of mother pigs in crates, and therefore it did not mislead consumers. So, Smithfield asked the court to dismiss the case.

The District of Columbia Superior Court denied Smithfield’s motion in full. The court agreed with us that Smithfield’s various statements about eliminating the use of such crates, and about our praise for its earlier promises “could mislead a reasonable consumer to believe that [Smithfield] no longer uses [gestation] crates during the breeding process which it admittedly still does.” The judge also rejected all of Smithfield’s other legal arguments for dismissing the case.

This win means the case will now move forward toward a trial under D.C.’s consumer protection law. Smithfield cannot continue to falsely claim that it has met its animal welfare commitments when it has not. We will continue our fight in court, led by the HSUS’ Animal Protection Law department, to show that Smithfield misrepresented its use of gestation crates to the public. Big agriculture cannot dodge the fact that people care about how farm animals are treated.

This case is not our only fight in the courts relating to the cruel confinement of farm animals. Just this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments on California’s Proposition 12, a landmark law passed in 2018 that bans the extreme confinement of mother pigs, egg-laying hens and calves raised for veal in California, and outlaws the sale in the state of pork, eggs and veal sourced from extreme confinement. The lower federal courts already ruled in our favor and upheld Proposition 12, and we await the Supreme Court’s decision—hopefully, in favor of the pigs.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Farm Animals

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  1. Karin erker says:

    Das ist schrecklich … das muss gestoppt werden …. Die Armen Tiere … es gibt Alternativen also müssen die genutzt werden und dann muss man die Armen Tiere nicht quälen stop

  2. Colleen Cade says:

    This angers me terribly. I’m so angry that I have been buying this product for 10 yrs+ and this is unacceptable. I’m looking into a class action lawsuit against this very thing

  3. Heather Beatty says:

    Such a huge win. We’re rooting for you and pigs!

  4. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Por favor no podemos permitir más violencia hacia los animalitos tenemos que hacer conciencia en qué planeta estamos viviendo en dónde se permite la violencia hacia los seres vivos y cualquier animalito

  5. Jeanne P says:

    Kudos HSUS!
    We can all also put pressure on Smithfield by protesting this inhumane treatment with our wallets, by not purchasing any Smithfield products.
    Smithfield, Eckrich, Farmland, Armour, Cook’s, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Kretschmar, Curly’s, Carando, Margherita and Healthy Ones. I get that can completely minimize grocery store pork product options.
    When you want to buy pork products, look for local farmers. The pork may be a bit more pricey, or not, but you could feel good about not only eating pork from pigs that were treated humanely, but are probably healthier for you.
    Another option would be Impossible Pork.
    Impossible Pork contains a mixture of plant-based ingredients like soy, coconut oil and sunflower oil, as well as heme, vitamins and minerals. It contains no gluten, animal hormones or antibiotics, has 18g of protein per 4 oz serving and is a good source of iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and B vitamins.
    If we really feel compassion for these intelligent animals we have to walk our talk.

  6. ellen says:

    Can we as consumers not file a class action lawsuit for deceptive advertizing. We were mislead purposefully. Companies claim humanly raised, caged free, ect, ect., and then there is tons of evidence to the contrary.

  7. N Oliver says:

    My fantasy is to see the above photo placed on each package.

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