Jun 16, 2020 - Health

U.S. meatpackers exported record amount of pork to China while warning about supply shortages

Meat on shelves.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

U.S. companies exported a record 129,000 tons of pork to China in April, even as meat producers warned that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic would deplete the industry's supply chain, the New York Times reports, citing data from Panjiva.

Why it matters: U.S. consumers had to deal with meat shortages as many meatpacking plants became coronavirus hot spots. The industry lobbied the Trump administration to intervene to reverse plant closures mandated by local and state officials.

  • Yet despite their public warnings of an impending shortage, meatpackers did not disclose "that keeping the plants open would also protect their long-term investments in exporting to a country that is vital to their growth," according to the Times.
  • Since the outbreak began, 25,523 meatpacking workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, while 89 have died, according to the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

What they're saying: “As long as our nation’s harvest facilities continue to operate, not only do we have enough meat to feed Americans, but also to feed the world,” Smithfield Foods, one of the largest meat producers, said in a statement to the Times.

  • Smithfield said the meat it exported in April was ordered and processed months before the pandemic. But much of that meat, the Times points out, could have still stocked shelves in April and May.
  • The company added that “much of what is exported are items that attract little or no interest from domestic consumers."

The bottom line: “The meat companies were saying the sky was falling, and it really wasn’t,” Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist at Food & Water Watch, told the Times.

  • “It wasn’t that there was not enough supply. It was that the supply was being sent abroad.”
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