Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business News show Mornings with Maria thought she was sitting down with the CEO of meat corporation Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, for a basic interview about securing COVID-19 vaccines for slaughterhouse workers. But as she — and viewers — found out shortly afterwards, the “CEO” in question was actually an animal rights activist with the group Direct Action Everywhere, posing as the CEO.
“It appears we have been punked,” Bartiromo admitted later in the program.
An animal activist posed as Smithfield Foods’ CEO on Fox News.
Matt Johnson, press coordinator of Direct Action Everywhere (aka DxE — more on the group below), posed as Dennis Organ — a name that sounds almost too made-up for a meat company CEO to be real, but it actually is the name of Smithfield Foods’ real CEO.
Johnson started out the interview completely committing to his character, even wishing host Bartiromo a merry Christmas, discussing how devastating the coronavirus pandemic has been for the meat industry, and praising Smithfield slaughterhouse workers’ heroic efforts over the past nine months.
He then went onto describe how “his” company’s efforts have failed workers. “I personally promise that we’re going to do better, and the first change under my leadership is transparency and brutal honesty,” Johnson said.
“And the truth is that our industry, in addition to the outbreaks that are happening in our plants, our industry poses a serious threat in effectively bringing on the next pandemic, with CDC data showing that three in four infectious diseases come from animals and the conditions inside of our farms can sometimes be petri dishes for new diseases,” he continued. “Hog farming also causes immense harm to our air and waterways.”
Smithfield Foods is owned by a Chinese conglomerate.
Bartiromo then brought up how Smithfield is owned by a Chinese conglomerate, along with allegations that when the African swine flu affected more than a million pigs in China, Smithfield still slaughtered and served those pigs to consumers. “What kind of processing securities do you have in place to assure Americans that their pork is safe?” she asked Johnson.
“I think that our company's track record really speaks for itself in that regard,” Johnson responded, mentioning PPE and sanitization policies. Smithfield’s track record certainly does speak for itself here — in April 2020, Smithfield was forced to close its massive Sioux Falls, S.D. slaughterhouse and packaging facility indefinitely after it became the biggest coronavirus hotspot in the U.S.
According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration data shared by South Dakota News Watch, about 929 Smithfield workers and 210 others who had been in close contact with workers tested positive for COVID-19 (or otherwise displayed symptoms), and four employees died — and this was just in April.
“In terms of the impact that this industry has on the world, we really want to kind of embrace a brighter future,” Johnson told Bartiromo. “And with some of the impact that our industry is having, we are actually pledging a half a billion dollars a year starting in 2021 to mitigate some of these impacts, because what’s happening in China and what’s happening elsewhere, there’s a lot of concerns and people are worried about the impacts that we’re having.”
Smithfield strongly refuted the Fox News segment.
Unfortunately, Smithfield is not actually pledging $500 million a year to curb the devastating impacts of the animal agriculture industry on animals, the planet, and public health.
Smithfield Foods also responded to the segment, calling it a “hoax” (a word President Trump has used to describe the coronavirus time and time again). “It was not the CEO,” Smithfield executive Keira Lombardo told Plant Based News in a statement. “A simple Google search for a photo of our CEO would have prevented this from happening.”
And as mentioned above, Bartiromo admitted her mistake later in the episode. “We’ve since learned that that was not Dennis Organ, but an imposter making false claims about the company,” she said, adding an apology to Smithfield and a promise to “be more vigilant” in the future.
DxE's "prank" could inspire meat eaters to reconsider their habits.
Johnson, however, stood by his appearance on the show. “A pandemic is ravaging global society, the sky is practically on fire, slaughterhouse workers are dying, and billions of animals are suffering needlessly,” he said, according to Plant Based News. “The signs could not be clearer. We must take bold action now.”
And in an interview with The Washington Post, Johnson shared that he did have one regret about the interview — he ran out of time to announce that Smithfield was planning tp “transition entirely to plant-based meats."
What is Direct Action Everywhere?
Direct Action Everywhere aka DxE is a worldwide network of grassroots nonviolent animal rights activists, who work to achieve justice, protection, and radical change for animals. The group rejects animal agriculture as well as speciesism, which is when humans assume they are superior to animals.
"We have a bold vision to change the world for animals in one human generation," DxE declares on its website.
You can take action with DxE in ways big and small — click here to support the cause, and here to write a letter demanding California prohibit the construction of new Smithfield factory farms and slaughterhouses.
Animal agriculture could start the next pandemic.
COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease, meaning it first spread from animals to people. Slaughterhouses and factory farms are petri dishes for zoonotic diseases, due to their cramped and unsanitary conditions. Not only that, but slaughterhouses are also the perfect place for diseases like the coronavirus to spread from human to human, since they are forced to stand close together on the kill floor, and share locker rooms.
Many experts have warned that humans must move away from diets heavy in animal products if we want to avoid the next pandemic.
To actually achieve this, we need cooperation from massive meat producers like Smithfield Foods as well as governments, who keep the meat, dairy, and egg industries afloat with tens of billions of dollars in subsidies each year.
As legendary anthropologist Jane Goodall put it earlier this year, "One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. Scientists warn that to avoid future crises, we must drastically change our diets and move to plant-rich foods. For the sake of the animals, planet, and the health of our children.”