WASHINGTON – A superior court judge in the District of Columbia denied Smithfield Food Inc.’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges the meat producer misrepresented to consumers that a US meat shortage was imminent at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. 

Food & Water Watch (FWW) filed its case against Smithfield in June 2021 and claimed that the company “mounted an aggressive public relations campaign to bolster its image and keep its production plants operating at full capacity despite the grave risk to workers.”

The group added an allegation that the company “misrepresented working conditions in its plants in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns for worker safety.”

FWW also asserted that Smithfield violated the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act in its case.

In its attempted dismissal, Smithfield argued that the “allegations do not meet the legal standard for injunctive relief because the allegations do not pertain to current statements or current consumer purchases based on past statements.” 

The company’s argument also said FWW should not be able to seek punitive damages because the group is not a consumer. 

After denying Smithfield’s motion Heidi Pasichow, associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia set a scheduling conference for both sides to be held on Sept. 16.

Smithfield faced several major disruptions during the pandemic’s beginning as meat packaging facilities dealt with the first wave of COVID-19. The company closed its Sioux City, SD, facility in April 2020 following dozens of people testing positive for the virus. About 3,700 people work at the plant.

Smithfield did not respond to the request for comment at the time of publication.