Story at a glance
- As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States, meat processing plants are struggling to stay open.
- President Donald Trump has sought to keep meat processing plants open as critical infrastructure during the pandemic.
- A new Reuters analysis found exports to China have increased in recent months.
Pork suppliers have been hit especially hard by the mass closure of restaurants and slaughterhouses. At the same time, hundreds of workers at meat and poultry processing facilities in 19 states have confirmed cases of COVID-19.
"The closures and slowdown in production have reduced pork slaughter capacity by about 35 to 40 percent and beef slaughter capacity by about 30 to 40 percent," Reuters reported, using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But while the number of pigs slaughtered each day fell by about 40 percent since mid-March, Reuters reported, shipments of American pork to China more than quadrupled over the same time period, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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The findings come after President Donald Trump issued an executive order dedicating resources to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue their operations as "critical infrastructure during the national emergency."
Smithfield, the world’s biggest pork processor, was the largest U.S. exporter to China between January and March, according to Panjiva, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence. Reuters reported that the company, which was bought by China’s WH Group for $4.7 billion in 2013, shipped at least 13,680 tonnes by sea in March.
Smithfield said its namesake pork plant in Virginia will be redirected to increase supplies for U.S. customers in a statement to Reuters, which reported the plant and switched to processing hog carcasses for the Chinese market last year.
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