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Noem’s Advisor Seidel Leaked CDC Draft Covid Recommendations for Smithfield to Corporate Exec

The House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis includes in its new report on Big Meat’s corporate capture of the Trump Administration includes emails indicating that Governor Kristi Noem’s office was feeding Smithfield information to help it lobby the CDC for weaker health recommendations at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

In early April, 2020, worker advocates sounded the alarm about increasing coronavirus infections and unsafe working conditions at Smithfield Foods’ slaughterhouse in Sioux Falls. While Governor Kristi Noem and Sioux Falls mayor Paul TenHaken asked Smithfield to shut down for a couple weeks to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, Governor Noem also criticized the media for being too hard on Smithfield. Noem’s other public statements at the time signaled she was more interested in using her connections in Washington to amplify Smithfield’s propaganda and help Smithfield achieve its CEO Kenneth Sullivan’s stated objective of continuing to operate “unabated“.

Part of the Governor’s running interference for Smithfield appears to have included leaking the CDC’s initial draft of recommendations for coronavirus prevention at the Sioux Falls slaughterhouse. On April 21, 2020 (the email is stamped Tue 4/21/2020 12:37:11 a.m. UTC, which means it was actually sent on Monday, April 20, at 7:37 p.m. Pierre time), Noem’s senior policy advisor Maggie Seidel emailed Smithfield VP for corporate affairs and compliance (now chief administrative officer) Keira Lombardo the CDC’s 14-page draft of preliminary recommendations, which were marked “Not for Distribution”:

Maggie Seidel, Senior Advisor & Policy Director, Office of Governor Kristi Noem, email to Keira Lombardo, executive vice-president of corporate affairs and compliance, Smithfield Foods, 2020.04.21.
Maggie Seidel, Senior Advisor & Policy Director, Office of Governor Kristi Noem, email to Keira Lombardo, executive vice-president of corporate affairs and compliance, Smithfield Foods, 2020.04.21.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preliminary recommendations for "Strategies to Reduce Covid-19 Transmission at the Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls Pork Plant," 2020.04.20.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, preliminary recommendations for “Strategies to Reduce Covid-19 Transmission at the Smithfield Foods Sioux Falls Pork Plant,” 2020.04.20, p. 1 of 14; attached to Seidel email to Lombardo, 2022.04.21.

Note that the CDC sent that initial draft to state epidemiologist Joshua Clayton, to Smithfield Sioux Falls workers’ union leader B.J. Motley, and to three Smithfield corporate guys, an executive VP, the HR director, and the Sioux Falls plant manager. But Seidel, who must have been keeping close tabs on what Noem’s Department of health was doing, felt this draft needed to be kicked up to her own direct contact in the Smithfield chain of command.

Lombardo evidently forwarded Seidel’s message to one of the original recipients, Smithfield executive VP Russ Dokken. Maybe Dokken hadn’t scrolled down to his own copy of the draft direct from the CDC, but that evening at 10:23 p.m., Dokken emailed Dr. Michael Grant, the CDC’s covid-19 field team leader in Sioux Falls, to complain about not getting to look at the preliminary recommendations before the Governor’s Office did:

Russ Dokken, executive VP, Smithfield Foods, email to Dr. Michael Grant, CDC covid-19 Sioux Falls field team, 2020.04.20.
Russ Dokken, executive VP, Smithfield Foods, email to Dr. Michael Grant, CDC covid-19 Sioux Falls field team, 2020.04.20.

Check your emails, Russ: the CDC sent you a copy of the draft directly before the Department of Health’s Dr. Clayton evidently passed it on to the Governor’s Office. If you have any complaint, it’s with the Department of Health, not the CDC. Just before midnight, Dr. Grant expressed his own surprise at this unexpected leakage:

Dr. Michael Grant, CDC, email to Russ Dokken, Smithfield, 2020.04.20.
Dr. Michael Grant, CDC, email to Russ Dokken, Smithfield, 2020.04.20.

Dokken forwarded Grant’s response to Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan five hours later, at 4:57 a.m. and said he would discuss that “interesting response” with Grant in the morning before Dokken’s call with Sullivan:

Russ Dokken, email to Ken Sullivan, 2020.04.21.
Russ Dokken, email to Ken Sullivan, 2020.04.21.

Less than seven hours later, Tuesday morning, April 21, at 11:28 a.m., Sullivan emailed USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach his hand-annotated copy of the CDC draft, complaining that social distancing was “challenging to achieve in a (dis) assembly plant” and stating that meeting many of the CDC’s recommendations would be “problematic for a 110 year old, 8 story plant.”

Ken Sullivan, Smithfield CEO, email to Greg Ibach, USDA Undersecretary, 2020.04.21.
Ken Sullivan, Smithfield CEO, email to Greg Ibach, USDA Undersecretary, 2020.04.21.

Ibach email backed within an hour to tell Sullivan, “Thank you. We are on it.”

Dr. Grant’s CDC team issued its revised recommendations on April 22 to the same recipients of the initial draft, including Smithfield’s Dokken. On April 23, South Dakota Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon sent a copy directly to Smithfield CEO Sullivan. Smithfield’s Keira Lombardo told KELO-TV that day that Smithfield would “thoroughly and carefully examine the report point by point and respond in full once our assessment is complete.” As we know from the House Subcommittee report, Smithfield’s response was to work with its fellow meat oligopolists to write an executive order for Donald Trump to sign to keep their plants operating amidst a pandemic on false threats of a meat shortage.

And leakage from Governor Kristi Noem’s office helped Smithfield’s CEO stay on top of CDC recommendations and craft their harmful, self-interested response.

22 Comments

  1. jerry 2022-05-13

    Smithfield’s motto “GOOD FOOD. REPSONSIBLY”. Hmm, sounds like someone was doing crack when they came up with that line of bullcrap. Pig farmers will vote for NOem in response to this lack of “responsibly” that filled their pockets with blood money. No one cares as long as they’re at the trough of free government money over the workers dead body’s. How many deaths did NOem and these bloodsuckers cost, both in the slaughterhouse and those that caught Covid from them? Staggering lack of responsibility for the almighty buck.

  2. Mark 2022-05-13

    CAH: I think the correct local time of the Seidel email dated 4/21/2020 is 7:37 am CDT, unless, of course, there was an error on her computer settings.

  3. P. Aitch 2022-05-13

    In Short: Smithfield and Noem faked a meat shortage so they could put the lives of Mexican workers well below their profit attempts.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-05-13

    I don’t think so, Mark. The original email says 4/21 12:37 a.m. UTC. UTC, the modern term for Greenwich Mean Time, is five hours ahead of Central Daylight Time. (It’s 5:44 p.m. at Greenwich now, and it’s 12:44 p.m. here.). So roll the clock back five hours, and Seidel hit send at 7:37 p.m. Monday, 4/20.

    Plus, check Dokken’s email to Grant: he says Monday evening that he just received a draft copy that was sent to Lombardo, the reciopient of Seidel’s email.

  5. leslie 2022-05-13

    Good work Cory! Kristi’s specific foul?

    And is the conclusion that SDDOH short circuited Smithfield Sioux Falls investigation recommendations of federal scientists and Sioux Falls meat packing operators and its employees Union, and elevated the draft prematurely to Smithfield’s Lombardo who gained influence of the Sioux Falls plant’s final CDC guidance from Trump’s overriding executive order which watered down CDC authority over the entire national packing industry?

    Greeley meat packing’s CDC guidance a few days later was quite softer apparently, than this initial CDC recommendation Noem’s office first received and forwarded to Lombardo (at whatever date and time).

  6. Donald Pay 2022-05-13

    Typical South Dakota government corruption, Cory. It’s what I thought was happening at the time, because corruption is the modus operandi of Republican governing principles. Republican leaders in South Dakota really don’t care about people’s lives or health. I saw the same sorts of stuff over and over—sewage ash scam, Gilt Edge mine, Lonetree dump. They work with the business leaders who kill people, but never with the people themselves. No, they stab them in the back. It’s just such typical behavior that by now they’ve normalized it. Once I saw a different approach, but it took a lot to get Governor Mickelson mad enough to kick some corporate nuts. He turned Williams Pipeline Sioux Falls spill over to the EPA Superfund Program. You know what? Williams Pipeline stopped effing around and started to clean up their mess. Noem and the rest of the crew lack that kind of courage. They would rather kill Smithfield workers than get crossways with the corporate criminals.

  7. mike from iowa 2022-05-13

    Smithfield is Chinese, right?

  8. P. Aitch 2022-05-13

    Right, MFI. That’s what made it so easy for Smithfield to sell off the meat stockpiles they were holding for USA and invent a shortage. China was a willing market, and the distribution pipeline was already well established.

    From The Wall Street Journal by Joe Crowe | Monday, 23 July 2018
    A record amount of beef, pork, poultry, and turkey – 2.5 billion pounds – is being stockpiled in U.S. facilities, federal data is expected to show,
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/meat-piles-up-as-production-grows-and-exports-slow-1532268000
    https://www.newsmax.com/us/meat-poultry-tariffs/2018/07/23/id/873246/

  9. jerry 2022-05-13

    Not a Chinese sounding name in the whole paper trail, not one Chin. Smithfield is no more Chinese than Tesla when you really take a close look at both.

    China purchased a lot of pork as American producers were up to their hocks with hogs that were market ready.

    trump should’ve done like Tom Berry and FDR, purchased the livestock and destroyed it if necessary. Instead, trump and NOem killed workers in these meat plants…

  10. All Mammal 2022-05-13

    The Hutterites have delicious pork. I understand why the raising of swine has been shunned by so many peoples in history. Because they’re destructive as hell on the land, reproduce out of control, and we’re so much alike, it makes it way too easy to exploit them and mistreat them. Oh, the humble pig never gets any respect.

    Anybody who throws our laborers into the pyre are, in fact, the cloven-hooved devil-worshippers. Makes me think of Pope Francis’s Christmas homily about protecting the lives of workers. The Pope of the People couldn’t be more relevant.

  11. 96Tears 2022-05-13

    Killer party girl Kristi doesn’t surprise me here. Killin’ people by throwing them into harm’s way comes naturally to her. It’s her signature claim to fame with the Trumpanzees. I am surprised that the Sioux Falls mayor went along with it and may be why he set a little daylight between Noem and himself during the first year of the pandemic. I suspect he still has a conscience. As public officials, sworn to their duties, party girl Kristi and the mayor betrayed their constituents and killed innocent people whose only wrongdoing was being too poor to work anywhere else than Smithfield.

    I’ve wondered for a long time why citizens of Sioux Falls don’t give the boot to Smithfield. Smithfield stinks, literally, and is hugely unattractive next to the Falls park and Phillips to the Falls development area. Smithfield treats its workers as if they were animals. Smithfield is a massive polluter. Sioux Falls doesn’t need Smithfield. South Dakota doesn’t need these crooks. Give the murderers the boot. They won’t be missed.

  12. Mark Anderson 2022-05-13

    It is modus operandi for Noem, she’s the female DeSantis. While our lovely Senator Scott is trying to catch up with both of them, when he ran a chain of hospitals he pleaded the fifth 75 times. His hospitals had to pay for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. Scott resigned in the middle of the investigation. The hospital chain payed 840 million dollars for 14 cooperate felonies and later payed 881 million. Republicans are so used to this its normal for them. Scott now wants to get rid of Medicare and Social Security, as is said, so it goes. It’s hard to even believe there is a good Republican anymore. Trump has released their demons. They are all killers and they don’t care.

  13. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-13

    Deceit. Mendacity. Corruption. Governor Noem keeps tripping over her own feet. She’s a politician but not a very adept one.

  14. leslie 2022-05-13

    NPR today-320,000 deaths avoidable since vaccination availability in the US. Good job Republicans in your disinformation campaign!

    We know Kristi’s CDC intervention is directly responsible for continued infection at Smithfield since Seidel’s 4/21/20 email, I think, once this post’s focus is clearer.

    There are more that she caused. 320,000 deaths w/ no accountability?

  15. leslie 2022-05-13

    A few choice quotes:

    “The North American Meat Institute — the industry’s lobbying organization — said the subcommittee’s report “distorts the truth” about the industry’s effort to protect employees.”

    Email in the Governor’s chain from Smithfield lobbies: “keep pesky health agencies out”

    “The meatpacking industry disenfranchised the ability of public health departments and local governments to enforce public health measures inside plants.” Did Kristi too, multi state?

    “Meatpacking workers were more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus than workers in other kinds of manufacturing jobs, primarily because employees often work shoulder-to-shoulder as they cut and package meat.

    More than 400 meatpacking plant workers have died from the coronavirus, according to Investigate Midwest tracking. There have been at least 86,000 positive cases.”

    “On April 9, 2020, South Dakota officials temporarily shuttered a Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls after hundreds of workers had tested positive for COVID-19. Two days later, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan reached out to his counterpart at Tyson Foods, Noel White, with an idea — an executive order that would prevent authorities from shutting down meatpacking plants.”

    Kristi acted April 20-21 after CDC’s investigation and initial or draft Smithfield recommendations, apparently after SDDOH copied in Smithfield’s Lombardo.

    “Johnsonville CEO Nick Meriggioli supported liability protection for meat companies but pushed back on Tyson and Smithfield’s approach in an email to Potts, NAMI’s president: Perhaps the intent should be to get federal assistance to gain priority on PPE and testing supplies, Meriggioli wrote. I am concerned that it could become a social/public relations nightmare if we are too aggressive in asking for an EO to make us off limits.”

    “After receiving pushback … Potts told the CEOs … that they would “back-channel” the request for an executive order with Sonny Perdue, the Trump-appointed Secretary of Agriculture.”

    What was Trump’s quid pro quo I wonder?

    “…when USDA political appointees intervened in the decisions of local health authorities to temporarily close meatpacking plants with large coronavirus outbreaks, career staff were “sidelined…”

    Current USDA officials and staff told the Congressional subcommittee that [Trump USDA “fixer”] Brashears and other political appointees left “no paper trail” of their interactions with state and local health authorities.”

    Mentioned above, Chicken Council vice president and lobbyist Ashley Peterson agreed, then said, “Now to get rid of those pesky health departments!” Through May, “companies and USDA political appointees were “regularly” intervening, the report states. https://investigatemidwest.org/2022/05/12/tyson-foods-authored-draft-version-of-trumps-2020-executive-order-to-keep-meatpacking-plants-open-during-covid-19-pandemic-emails-show/

    Some examples of federal interference in local public health decisions took place at Rochelle Foods in Rochelle, Illinois; JBS in GREELEY, Colorado; Tyson Foods in Center, Texas; and Foster Farms in Livingston, California.” (Emphasis added)

  16. larry kurtz 2022-05-13

    A tornado hits her home town and Mrs. Noem praises her god for sparing her campaign war chest. Is this a great country or what?

  17. Arlo Blundt 2022-05-13

    Well..good old Maggie Seidel. We hardly knew her. As I recall, she and her husband planned on living in Sioux Falls after she left the Governor’s service. Did she go from working for the Queen of Snows to working for the” Worlds Largest Pork Producer”??. She is certainly a willing worker.

  18. Kurt Evans 2022-05-13

    Larry Kurtz writes:

    A tornado hits her home town and Mrs. Noem praises her god for sparing her campaign war chest.

    Her press release is named after Lee Schoenbeck’s “South Dakota Strong” PAC:
    https://news.sd.gov/newsitem.aspx?id=30214

    The release says she found our response to the storm damage “humbling,” but she’s “proud” of it. I’m old enough to remember when those were opposites.

    The winds were “South Dakota Strong,” but Governor Noem’s unholy alliance with unusual fringe person Lee Schoenbeck will probably do more damage in the long run.

    Governor Noem has deliberately and repeatedly violated the foundational American principle of the separation of powers by abusing the extravagant taxpayer-financed resources of the executive branch of government to disrupt the proceedings of the judicial and legislative branches. If that’s “South Dakota Strong,” I’d rather be weak.

    And yesterday’s massive line of storms apparently produced exactly one tornado.

  19. Kurt Evans 2022-05-13

    I’d written:

    And yesterday’s massive line of storms apparently produced exactly one tornado.

    Oops. There are conflicting media reports, but apparently there were at least five in South Dakota.

    The winds were “South Dakota Strong,” but Governor Noem’s unholy alliance with unusual fringe person Lee Schoenbeck will probably do more damage in the long run.

    Here’s some context for the “unusual fringe person” description:
    https://dakotafreepress.com/2022/04/23/pot-and-kettles-tax-hiking-schoenbeck-attacks-gosch-pischke-other-republicans-for-offering-counties-0-5-tax-for-jails-courthouses/

  20. larry kurtz 2022-05-14

    According to the National Weather Service seven tornadoes went through northeastern South Dakota alone: two EF2s, four EF1s and one EF0. The strongest twister had an estimated peak wind gust of 135 MPH which is nearly an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

  21. leslie 2022-05-14

    In March 2020 after superspread occurred Noem bemoaned how Smithfield’s CEO was mean in April because of Chinese ownership. And she was advised by MD Scott Atlas, Trump’s idiot medical advisor.

    Trump’s meltdowns w/GM (ventilators) and everyone else in March and April parallel Kristi’s. https://www.vox.com/2020/6/8/21242003/trump-failed-coronavirus-response

    Their Keystone Cops hilarity would be funny if it weren’t so….

  22. John 2022-05-19

    We ain’t seen nothing yet!
    Aspiring Senator Bengs knows its past the time to break up the agricultural industrial complex monopolies.
    Global hunger has increased since 2016. The criminal Russian war on Ukraine is making it worse. The inability of NATO & EU nations to intervene will likely lead to millions of hungry brown-skinned refugees from the Middle East and North Africa flooding to European shores and storming its cities. That’s a fitting situation for selfish Europe to not intervene to help Ukraine. This coming refugee crisis will then embolden Europe’s autocrats and anti-immigrant right wingers – threatening the whole European experiment.

    “The food industry is becoming tightly coupled to the financial sector, increasing what scientists call the “network density” of the system, making it more susceptible to cascading failure. Around the world, trade barriers have come down and roads and ports upgraded, streamlining the global network. You might imagine that this smooth system would enhance food security. But it has allowed companies to shed the costs of warehousing and inventories, switching from stocks to flows. Mostly, this just-in-time strategy works. But if deliveries are interrupted or there’s a rapid surge in demand, shelves can suddenly empty.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/19/banks-collapsed-in-2008-food-system-same-producers-regulators

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