Chinese-Owned Smithfield Ham Controversies

Updated on June 4, 2020
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years of success in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

On Main Street in Smithfield, in Isle of Wight County, VA, on the Pagan River.
On Main Street in Smithfield, in Isle of Wight County, VA, on the Pagan River. | Source

Largest Hog and Pork Producer in America

Smithfield Foods was purchased by the Chinese in September 2013, but it maintained American operations. Rumors are false that the US sends pigs to China to be processed and then imports them back.

However, a controversy surrounded Smithfield Hams for several years from 2000–2015, involving the following:

  1. Alleged use of undocumented workers,
  2. Alleged low quality of meats donated to the poor once a year,
  3. High-priced and conspicuous consumerism promulgated by the company and its advertising programs, and
  4. Pig abuse.

Smithfield offices are located in Luohe, Henan Province, People's Republic of China. American operations includes facilities in 26 US states.

Smithfield offices are located in Luohe, Henan Province, People's Republic of China. American operations includes facilities in 26 US states.

Some of the company's advertising programs include a link to the Food Network and their Paula Deen, who worked herself up to her 21st Century status through innovation and much toiling as a single mom of two sons—a real American Dream type of story.

The question the public sometimes asks is that, having scraped one's way to the top, does one become like many others on the summit: spending too much, eating too much, wasting too much, and feeling empty? We hope not. I don't think Paula Deen is that person.

The year 2014 was a record for our company, with the highest earnings in our history and our best-ever overall sales of $15 billion.

— C. Larry Pope, CEO; July 8, 2015
A ham.
A ham. | Source

Smithfield Foods Brand Names

Armour, Eckrich, Smithfield, Premium Hams, John Morrell, Farmland, Curly's, Healthy Ones, and the lesser-seen Krakus, Cudahy, Cook's, Carando, Margherita, and Gwaltney, as well as other brands.

Undocumented Workers

Rumors claim that Smithfield Foods has taken on certain numbers of undocumented workers from Mexico each business quarter, worked them at low wages, and then turned them in to INS in order to keep fresh supplies of low-paid workers cycling through.

Smithfield Foods . . . After ICE agents raided the Tar Heel, NC plant and arrested 21 illegal alien workers, 500 workers with fake Social Security numbers were promptly fired from the factory. Another raid in August 2007, netted 28 more illegal aliens, all were from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.


Not the only pork company to be held accountable, Smithfield was joined on the list of working the undocumented by Swift Premium.

Selling Smithfield and Investing in Other Businesses

  • Plant Closing, 53 Laid Off: Smithfield Closes Virginia Facility March 2011. Vice president for human resources Jeff Gough told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reporters that the closure of the Ham and Products Facility in Smithfield won't affect consumers. The plant apparently cannot keep up with business. That is a funny reason for going OUT of business.
  • Selling Off the Hogs: Smithfield sells hog farm to Prestage Farms. Smithfield Foods Inc., previously sold its Texhoma hog production operations to Prestage Farms Inc. for an undisclosed amount. Smithfield said the farms do not supply any of the company's pork processing plants. What did they do with the hogs?
  • Promoting Iowa Hogs—Why? $1 Million in Iowa Swine Industry Grants 2011–2020. Smithfield Foods earmarked $1 Million dollars at $100,000 per year to build up the hog population of Iowa.

Chinese Ham and Sausage

At the end of May 2013, Shuanghui, a Chinese enterprise, announced the purchase of all of the stock of Smithfield Foods. Smithfield is now owned by a Chinese company. America's Smithfield facilities ship hogs to China for processing and sales to the Chinese people.

Independent Investigation Report

In late December 2010, a report was released to sum the independent investigations run on Smithfield Foods. This involved allegations of the Humane Society of the US about mishandling sows at Waverly farms.

Smithfield fired three employees for pig abuse after screening secret video footage and criticized an investigator that worked undercover and either contributed to the abuse or did not stop it.

I think Smithfield took appropriate action and hope the company will prevent further abuses. This will likely take either more frequent spot checks of work areas or surveillance camera installation that will drive up costs.

Smithfield in Hampton Roads, Virginia

Smithfield Foods is well favored in Hampton Roads, Virginia, a rich metro area. The company donates thousands of pounds of actual whole hams to the food banks in that area for some Easter seasons, as reported by local newspapers and TV reports, as well as on

Further, a state-employed veterinarian passed inspection on Smithfield pig handling routines and methods in Hampton Roads after the firing of the three employees mentioned above.

So far, since Christmas 2010, no pig abuse, hot dogs, or illegal aliens have been found in Hampton Roads to my knowledge. There may still be a controversy over pig crates that is under public scrutiny across the country.

A Smithfield product. I found these at Wal-Mart just north of my city.
A Smithfield product. I found these at Wal-Mart just north of my city. | Source

Environment and Sustainability

Smithfield has attempted to support sustainability and the environment, having won an Environmental Award in 2007: the Virginia Governor's Environmental Excellence Award.

However, the company then sold its biofuel affiliate in February 2008, both facts according to articles on In the same year, Smithfield won a sustainability award from McDonald's USA. I'd bet the food chain is a customer of the pig chain.

Further, since December 2010, I've noticed large bone chips in the sausage patties at several local units here. Altogether, this does not sound kosher, so to speak.

At the same time, Smithfield has instituted a number (hundreds) of sustainability projects in order to aid the environment and reduce costs and waste. These are listed on their company website.

I Found Hot Dogs

. . . but are they Smithfield's?

Paula Deen and the Smithfield folks sponsored a pork products contest back in 2009, and I remember hearing about it. A Creole Corn Dog recipe won, and it had to use one of the advertised Smithfield ingredients: bacon, their famous ham, fresh pork, lunch meat, smoked sausage, or smoked pork chops. No hot dogs there!

As for the hot dogs, each year at the 4th QTR holidays, Smithfield donates food to the needy. In representing Smithfield and talking about the donations, I've heard Paula mention only "protein" and not specific products.

This raises the red flag of "meat scraps" and "hot dogs." I like hot dogs once in a while and meat scraps from the deli can make a good sandwich spread—I used to make it myself when I ran a slicer in a small grocery store.

What Is Actually Donated?

The Smithfield Foods company website has published pictures of Paula Deen and several volunteers loading and unloading Smithfield products for the Helping Hungry Homes 10-city Food Banks tour in the US to hand out food to these organizations.

The packages all look like they could contain very small hams and packs of smoked sausages or hot dogs.

They report 250,000 pounds of "protein" and 1,000,000 four-oz. servings of meat. At the same time, the company website lists products sold under the brands Armour, Ekrich, and others that visibly include hot dogs.

Smithfield's subsidiary John Morrell does make hot dogs, but not in all US states. I am betting that many of these are donated to the poor.

Smithfield also helps with School Nutrition, Disaster Relief, and families of Active Military Service People to ensure that more people receive enough nutrition. It might not all be good nutrition.

Conspicuous Consumption

I must say that the Food Network seems to promote conspicuous consumption in some of its shows, even some of the "frugal cooking" offerings. Throwing away large quantities of food after dinners and parties as some of the featured cooks advise is wasteful.

Charging $12.99/pound for the same meat that you can purchase across the street at $4.99/pound is a racket to me.

When these same, often well-loved advice-givers appear after filming hiatus, having gone on a diet and losing 60 pounds when others in the US are starving, it makes one wonder just what IS a healthy portion size and price.

How Have Smithfield Jobs Changed?

The company listed 600 jobs in December 2014, largely in Tar Heel NC, Smithfield VA, Clinton NC, Wilson NC, and Landover MD.

Three years later during October 2017, Smithfield listed over 1,000 job openings, all in North Carolina and Virginia, but the top five cities for these jobs were

  • Garner, Raleigh, Goldsboro, Smithfield, and Clayton NC.

The company no longer provides employment in Mexico and Europe.


  • Pork Network. Smithfield Releases Independent Investigation Report. Retrieved May 14, 2009.
  • Smithfield Job Search. Retrieved October 14, 2017.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

  • I have read that pigs are killed here and shipped to China then processed and sent back to the US, is this true?

    According to my query to Smithfield reps, no pigs are shipped overseas and back again in processing because the process would be too expensive. At this time, China has a shortage of pork and is purchasing pigs from South America for consumption. It is cheaper to buy from SA than from the USA.

  • Are pigs from the USA shipped to China to be processed and then returned for sale in America?

    Many people have wondered about this, but Smithfield has maintained that no American pigs are shipped to China for processing and returned for sale, because such an operation would be too expensive to be sustainable. The official company stance is that no USA pigs go to China for processing.

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


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    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      9 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I went through several years when I did not buy or eat pork due to the large factory farms and the abuse. Then I started buying it again, which I should not. Wish I could afford to purchase real farm grown pork - say from an Amish farm where animals are allowed to live as animals. Great research.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      I was horrified with reports and rumors of hot dogs to the poor and pigs squished into timy crates, employee discrimination, undocumented workers and many others. Regulatory agencies seem to be making headway, though. Thanks for posting, Hello, hello!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you, Patty, for such excellent hub exposing one these top companies. In that way the Internet is so fantastic. Maybe the more people pointing at all these wrongs something might be done.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for your response susannah42. Once in a while is enough for me, too.

    • susannah42 profile image


      9 years ago from Florida

      I have always been suspicious of Hot Dogs. Don't eat them very often, if ever.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      9 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks to you all for posting your views! I did not know how I felt abut Smithfield, so I did this Hub and feel more positive about them. Accountability in the food industries helps a lot.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Patty, You obviously did a lot of research to write this excellent article. It is difficult to know the whole truth, especially about hot dog. It does certainly seem that Smithfield is a very generous company in many ways. A very interesting hub, rated up!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Interesting hub, and a vote up!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 

      9 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Interesting information. Just a few days ago I was at a Smithfield competitor's website (Tyson). The things they don't tell you are what makes me wonder.


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