Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker are initiating an investigation into three meat plants after companies lobbied to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic, citing a meat shortage that caused a price increase, despite a number record pork shipments to China.
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The senators raised questions about the steps Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill and Smithfield Foods took to protect their workers during the coronavirus pandemic, especially given the data that showed that meat plant workers became ill from the virus. contracted within plants.
“Their companies created the conditions that left their workers and supply chain vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic, but instead of addressing them, they used the possibility of food shortages to secure a federal license to put their workers in danger “Warren and Booker wrote in letters addressed to companies on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that there were 4,913 cases of COVID-19 in meat plant workers and at least 20 deaths due to lack of social distancing measures and poor plant hygiene, as well as to crowded living and transportation conditions. .
Despite meat plants claiming a shortage and stores limiting the amount of meat consumers can buy in supermarkets, as well as rising prices, President Trump insisted that he would not reduce meat exports to China.
Trump’s decision came close to an agreement made with Beijing earlier this year in which China promised to buy $ 12.5 billion in agricultural products from the US. USA In 2020 and another $ 19.5 billion in 2021.
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“In April, as thousands of their workers became ill due to their own inability or unwillingness to implement protections for workers, their companies warned that the ‘country [was] dangerously close to the limit in terms of our meat supply ‘and that’ the food supply chain is breaking, ‘as we publicly press federal, state and local officials to keep the plants open, ”the letter said to meat companies.
“Their warnings of possible shortages led retailers to put limits on the amount of meat customers could buy.”
Meanwhile, through February, exports of pork and a variety of pork accounted for 31 percent of all US production, according to the US Meat Export Federation. USA Just over a third of those exports went to China, CNBC reported. As of April 2020, the United States was on track to export 1.1 million metric tons of pork, 35 percent more than last year.
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Despite the surge in pork exports, China announced Sunday that it would ban imports from a Tyson poultry plant in Arkansas due to a coronavirus outbreak at the facility that infected 227 workers earlier this month.