Warren and Booker Press Meatpackers on Exports to China

Two prominent Democrats in the Senate are questioning how meatpacking companies could justify exporting record amounts to China in April while warning of a shortage of pork and beef across the United States.

Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey sent a letter late Monday to the chief executives of Smithfield, Tyson, Cargill and JBS, criticizing them for exporting to China at the same time they were lobbying the Trump administration to keep their plants open during the pandemic because they wanted to keep feeding Americans.

The senators said the companies were putting their workers’ lives in danger while also raising food prices for American consumers.

“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,” Ms. Warren and Mr. Booker wrote.

The pork industry, in particular, had been banking on a boom in exports to China, the world’s largest consumer, after a thaw in the trade war with the United States late last year. The industry had been building up its processing and packing capacity and raising more pigs.

In their letter, Ms. Warren and Mr. Booker asked the companies to provide the number of virus cases in each of their facilities, which meatpackers like Smithfield have declined to disclose publicly unless required.

The senators have also asked for more detailed data on exports and price increases in the United States during the pandemic.

“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,” they wrote.

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