Sens. Raise Concern About Meat Shipped to China During COVID-19

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wrote a letter on Tuesday to four major meatpacking companies expressing concern with the amount of meat being sent abroad to China during the COVID-19 pandemic when there has been a shortage of meat and an increase in prices for American consumers.

“These actions raise questions about the circumstances of the President’s executive order, your honesty with the American public about the reasons for higher food prices, and your commitment to providing a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply for the nation,” the Senators told Chief Executive Officers of Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, and Smithfield Foods. 

The letter asks each company to disclose publicly the number of COVID-19 cases in each of their locations. It also asks for information from the companies about their sick-leave policies, actions when a worker has symptoms of COVID-19, and dates they implemented safety measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

“At least 27,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19 & over 90 have died. But plants not only failed to implement worker protections as people got sick – they fought for an executive order to stay open & waivers to put more workers on the line,” Warren said in a tweet on Wednesday. 

Warren and Booker claim the companies “manipulated this crisis” to reduce regulations citing waivers granted by the United States Department of Agriculture in April which allow plants to increase speed. They claim plants that received waivers are more likely to have cases of COVID-19. The letter claims reopening of meatpacking plants led to a resurgence of cases in communities with meatpacking facilities which indicates the companies are not taking precautions to keep their workers safe. 

“Your companies created the conditions that left your workers and the supply chain vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic – but instead of addressing them, you used the prospect of food shortages to secure a federal license to put your workers in harm’s way,” the letter alleges. 

The Senators also asked for numbers showing how much meat was sold in the United States and exported to China for each company and the average increase in the wholesale price of meats sold in the United States. The letter came after the New York Times reported a record total of 129,000 tons of pork shipped to China in April. 

The meatpacking industry has faced antitrust attention from numerous sources in recent months.