Meat+Poultry - August 2020 - 8

C O M M E N TA R Y

A much-needed mic drop
Heading into the sixth month of the
coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,
perhaps no other food business segment
has been second guessed, scrutinized
and financially impacted as much as the
meat and poultry processing industry.
Thousands of positive tests among
frontline workers at plants across the
United States have not only resulted in
devastating loss of lives, but also plant
closures, production reductions and
livestock backlogs.
In the face of adversity, on a scale
nobody could have ever predicted,
the meat and poultry industry needed
a credible voice to rebut common
criticisms in a logical, fact-based
manner. In late June, Kenneth Sullivan,
president and chief executive officer of
Smithfield Foods Inc., boldly provided
that voice with vigor. A June 22 letter
sent by Democratic Senators Elizabeth
Warren and Cory Booker to the top
leaders of Smithfield Inc., Tyson
Foods Inc., JBS USA and Cargill salted
a growing wound using sweeping
generalizations and assumptions about
a complex industry about which the
lawmakers knew very little.
The senators wrote the letter over
concerns about "new reports" that in
the midst of the pandemic and after
some of the leaders had made public

threats of a shortage of meat and
poultry due to the challenges facing
processing plants, "massive" export
shipments of products were made
to China.
It went on to boldly pose specific
questions to the company leaders
about their commitment to their
workers, the communities where they
operate and the US consumers. It
was an attack on the integrity of the
people leading the industry into battle
against COVID-19. Each of the four
company leaders dutifully responded
to the loaded questions asked by
the senators, but one embodied the
passion and fire that likely burns in the
belly of most industry leaders who bite
their tongues.
Smithfield's Sullivan said the
uninformed points spouted in the
letter from Warren and Booker totally
missed the mark with regard to the
industry's dynamics and its response to
COVID-19.
"Moreover, your letter reveals a
fundamental misunderstanding of our
food supply chain, the agricultural
sector and the role exports play in a
healthy farm economy," he said.
Sullivan went on to succinctly
rebut and defend his company and the
industry on every point in the senators'
letter, and more.
He retorted: "Think this has been
easy? It has not. I would gladly let you
live in my shoes."

He said insinuations that politics
plays a role in feeding the country in
a crisis is inaccurate and the company
is apolitical in its effort to do so. He
heaped praise on frontline workers for
the work they do and the risks they
have been willing to assume.
"Heroes, every last one," he said.
The company's response in the
form of generous employee leave and
pay policies; investment in PPE for
all workers; and adoption of CDC and
OSHA guidance for meat and poultry
workers were all detailed in Sullivan's
letter. He gave a number of poignant
reality checks, including a reminder
that the industry was forced to choose
between closing all plants to mitigate
risks or continue operating to preserve
the supply chain.
"It's an awful choice; it is not one
we wish on anyone," Sullivan said.
I, for one, can't fathom bearing this
burden for even one day, much less for
multiple months.
"What would you do if thrust into
our position? I suspect you would
do as we have done, which is to
implement every possible mitigating
employee protection you can think of
and accept the awesome responsibility
of maintaining our food supply,"
Sullivan wrote.
Drop the mic, Mr. Sullivan, and
accept the industry's thanks for
exemplary leadership.
J O E L C R E WS, E D I TO R | j c r e w s @ s o s l a n d .c o m

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Meat+Poultry - August 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Meat+Poultry - August 2020

Meat+Poultry - August 2020 - 1
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