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US Senators grill meatpackers over exports to China during coronavirus crisis

25 June 2020

Two Senate Democrats are questioning America’s top meatpackers to disclose how much pork, beef and chicken they shipped to China during the coronavirus outbreak before the end of the month.

Reuters reports that the companies were exporting meat while warning US officials and the wider public of possible meat shortages at home.

The request came from Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey. The increased scrutiny of meatpacking giants like JBS USA, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods comes after thousands of meat plant workers were infected with COVID-19.

USDA data indicates that the companies exported some 112,327 tonnes of US pork to China in April, more than any previous month and a 257 percent increase from 2019.

The exports raise questions about why US meat prices skyrocketed during the pandemic and President Trump ordered slaughterhouses to remain open to protect the national’s food supply. The claims came from a letter Warren and Booker sent to executives at Tyson, JBS, Smithfield and Cargill Inc.

Reuters reported on May 11 that Trump, a Republican, was facing criticism from some lawmakers, consumers and plant employees for putting workers at risk in part to help ensure China's meat supply.

"This pattern of behaviour raises questions about whether you are living up to your commitments to the workers who produce your pork and beef; the communities in which you operate, and the nation's consumers that rely on your products to feed their families," Warren and Booker told the meat companies.

Tyson and JBS have said they reduced exports to focus on meeting domestic demand. Smithfield retooled a plant to supply US consumers, a year after workers said the company reconfigured the same facility to process hogs for China. Cargill said it does not export US meat and poultry to China.

China's demand for meat imports increased after a fatal pig disease decimated its herd and sent Chinese pork prices to record highs.

Read more about this story here.



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