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Smithfield's extreme makeover

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Smithfield Foods tears a page from the Wal-Mart PR playbook with its recent TV ads touting the perks of working at the world's largest hog slaughterhouse: Health benefits, dental insurance and college scholarships.

"It's hard work, but it's good work," says one smiling employee. Several employees are portrayed as production workers, but are dressed in pristine, white, bloodless uniforms. The 30-second ad has aired on WRAL-TV during the local evening news and Wheel of Fortune, both heavy viewing times.

However, Smithfield's ad campaign fails to mention its consistent union-busting. A flyer posted inside the plant, and photographed via cell phone, reads: "You should be very angry. Even if you like the union, they are trying to put you and the company out of business."

Moreover, the shiny, happy people in the TV ad don't reflect the sentiments of employees who have repeatedly complained about conditions on the kill floor, in livestock pens and on assembly lines. Worker Keith Ludlum testified in February before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions that "I saw safety and health worker protections ignored. I saw workers abused and humiliated."

Smithfield has denied Ludlum's charges and those lodged by other workers who testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council about their injuries. In a press release, Smithfield questioned the council's objectivity.

And on May 23, 16 workers filed a complaint with the N.C. Labor Department's Division of Safety alleging that their drinking water is exposed to pathogens such as blood, and that at times live hogs have access to the coolers.

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