Smithfield Foods, Inc. (NYSE: SFD) yesterday issued the following statement from Richard J. M. Poulson, Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Chairman in response to an announcement by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and a team of contingency-fee lawyers that they intend to file suit against Smithfield Foods today:
“Today’s announcement represents a dangerous new direction in the trial lawyers’ campaign of extortion-by-litigation. This is not an attack on asbestos or tobacco or cop-killer bullets. Mr. Kennedy and his cohort of contingency fee lawyers have declared war on an industry that constitutes a way of life across the country. In North Carolina alone, nearly 45,000 citizens are employed full time in the pork industry, providing millions of families with safe, healthy, nutritious and economical pork products that include bacon, hot dogs and ham. With this much at stake, Mr. Kennedy should not labor under the misconception that Smithfield will knuckle under to their tactics.
“We recognize that in America, anybody can sue anyone they wish. But these lawsuits represent a gross perversion of our legal system. Hog production is one of the most heavily regulated segments of American agriculture. Every one of our hog farms in North Carolina and other states uses state-of-the-art waste disposal technologies. Every farm has a legal permit from an appropriate government agency and is subject to a strict zero- tolerance standard for environmental discharge, a standard not applied to municipalities and many other industries. In North Carolina in 2000 there were 14 inadvertent incidents of discharge of treated water from Smithfield hog farms that reached the waters of the state, totaling less than 125,000 gallons. During that same period, there were 1,722 incidents of municipal and industrial (non-farm) overflows (including 1,389 spills involving untreated waste), resulting in nearly 150 million gallons reaching the state’s waters. The so-called ‘free range’ hog farms that Mr. Kennedy advocates would result in an environmental catastrophe because untreated hog waste would be free to run into the nation’s waterways. Mr. Kennedy, in his naivete, apparently does not understand that he is attacking the very principles of organic farming.
“Smithfield and its affiliated companies are proud to help feed America and we are proud of our record of environmental stewardship. In August 2000, Smithfield and the Attorney General of North Carolina announced a landmark agreement, the centerpiece of which is a $15 million commitment on Smithfield’s part to conduct research on new waste technologies. A corollary program funded by Smithfield commits $50 million to environmental enhancement programs for the state.
“If Mr. Kennedy truly believed that the nation’s environmental laws were not being enforced, he would be suing the EPA to demand enforcement. But these lawsuits are not about the environment. They are about the social agenda of a group of unelected, unaccountable trial lawyers who want to override the legal and regulatory framework, substitute their own personal desires and financial interests for the wishes of the people and enrich themselves at the hands of the pork industry and ultimately the American consumer. We will respond strongly, swiftly, and appropriately to defend Smithfield Foods and the way of life of the thousands of families who depend on us for their way of life.”