Warren, Booker open investigation into meat prices, worker manipulation and exports to China

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Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) opened an investigation into the top meatpacking companies over allegations that they exploited workers, increased prices for American consumers and exported a record amount of meat to China during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The senators wrote a letter to the chief executives of Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill and Smithfield Foods about the allegations, noting that the companies lobbied President Trump to sign his executive order in April to keep meatpacking plants open despite coronavirus outbreaks.

“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 wrote.

The senators said that retailers limiting how much meat customers could purchase led to increased prices, all due to the spotlight put on the food supply from workers getting the coronavirus. More than 11,000 cases of COVID-19 were tied to Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and JBS plants as of May. 

They also cited a New York Times report about companies exporting a record amount of pork — 129,000 tons — to consumers in China during this time.

“Tyson Food exported more pork to China in that month than in any month since January 2017. Smithfield, which is owned by China’s largest pork producer, sent over 9,000 tons of pork to China in the same month — one of its highest monthly totals in recent years,” the senators wrote.

They said that more than 1.3 billion pounds of beef and pork were exported from these companies between March 20 and early June.

“This pattern of behavior 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,” they wrote. 

The senators asked the CEOs to provide information by June 30 on how many workers contracted the coronavirus, when they implemented Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) best practices for meat and poultry processors, and what actions they take when a worker shows symptoms of COVID-19.

They also asked if the companies revised their policies to ensure that sick workers are not encouraged to keep working, how much meat they produced from March through May, and how much they exported to China compared to export levels in 2019.

They requested average wholesale prices for products, average changes in prices paid to domestic farmers and ranchers, and if there was an increase in livestock brought in from outside the U.S. from March through May.

Tags Coronavirus Cory Booker COVID19 Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren JBS Meat industry Meat packing industry Smithfield Foods Smithfield Foods Tyson Foods Tyson Foods
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