In 1968, the CBS News TV documentary “Hunger in America” shocked the country, reporting that 10 million Americans out of a U.S. population of 200 million were hungry and that government efforts to feed those who needed help fell short.

The news prompted the White House to convene a Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health the following year to “put an end to hunger in America for all time.” The conference made 1,800 recommendations, leading to improvements in nutrition and ingredient labeling, expansions of the federal food stamp and school lunch programs, authorization of the WIC program and changes to other food policies.

While farmers and food companies have always been indispensable to government feeding programs, in the early years they simply supplied the food products, which largely were surplus commodities.

Since that 1969 conference, though, the role of America’s food providers in feeding the hungry has grown, with companies of all sizes now making donations of food to local, regional and national food bank networks, giving and investing funds in the infrastructure of food distribution, and offering more healthy and nutritious food choices.

Smithfield Foods has taken this responsibility to heart and has been at the forefront of providing food assistance to people in need for decades. Ever since we were founded in Smithfield, Va., more than 80 years ago, we have been donating food, money and volunteer hours to the communities in which we live and work. We launched our Helping Hungry Homes® initiative in 2008, providing millions of servings of protein to food banks, and have invested in key disaster relief and community outreach programs. In 2020 and 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when food banks were responding to unprecedented demand, we donated more than 107 million protein servings valued at more than $100 million.

The support from food companies coupled with the resources and programs of the federal government have made a significant dent in food insecurity. But there’s still a long way to go.

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Many in the richest country on earth still go to bed hungry. In fact, in the wake of the pandemic, with its adverse effects on our economy and supply chains, the number ticked up. U.S. Census Bureau data show that at the end of last year, 21 million people didn’t have enough to eat, up from 18 million last summer.

That’s one reason the White House is holding a second Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health on Wednesday.

Smithfield is honored to participate in this conference and to be part of the solution to the continuing problems of hunger and food insecurity. We are committed to donating 200 million servings of protein by 2025, double our initial goal of 100 million servings, which we reached three years ahead of schedule. And to ensure a consistent supply of affordable high-quality and nutrient-dense protein, we’re driving operational efficiencies throughout our integrated value chain to produce more with less.

We also have committed to reducing added sugars and sodium by 10% across our product lines, providing consumers with even more healthful protein, and increasing transparency through cleaner labeling on 100% of our products, by 2025.

Smithfield’s nationwide network of facilities and our 40,000 U.S. team members stand ready and able to provide safe, wholesome, and nutritious protein to our country’s less fortunate, particularly in underserved rural communities.

Other food companies small and large have made similar pledges to the White House conference, and USDA recently bolstered its commitment with an infusion of $2 billion for food banks and schools for their breakfast and lunch programs.

It will take a concerted effort from the federal government and from all private-sector food producers and processors to take on this task. But it’s hard to beat the economies of scale the nation’s larger food producers bring to make food widely accessible and affordable.

The White House conferees would do well to take a holistic approach to tackling the issue of hunger in America, making sure to capitalize on the scale and scope of companies like Smithfield that can produce safe, nutritious, and affordable food in a responsible and sustainable way that makes a difference for our fellow Americans who need help.

Stewart Leeth is chief sustainability officer for Smithfield Foods, Inc. Leeth leads the company’s global sustainability program, which focuses on seven core pillars: animal welfare; diversity, equity and inclusion; environmental stewardship; food safety and quality; health and wellness; helping local communities and worker health and safety.

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