Thursday, June 18, 2020

Meat Shortage? A Lie

As workers in meat processing plants around the United States earlier fell ill with the COVID-19, threatening production, the meat industry called for the government to allow the facilities to remain open, citing the threat of a catastrophic domestic food shortage.  After slaughterhouses in several states were closed when thousands of workers tested positive and dozens died, the industry publicly lobbied the Trump administration to intervene with state and local officials or risk major meat shortages across American grocery stores. Indeed, some retailers put limits on the amount of meat customers could buy, and the fast-food chain Wendy's, at one point, ran low on hamburger. 

Trump issued an executive order allowing the plants to stay open as essential businesses even as workers were getting sick and dying. 

According to the New York Times and USA Today, the industry was lying about the threat of a shortage in order to maintain large exports to overseas markets.

"It was a fake meat shortage," tweeted labor journalist Steven Greenhouse.

"The meat companies were saying the sky was falling, and it really wasn't," Food & Water Watch senior lobbyist Tony Corbo told the Times. "It wasn't that there was not enough supply. It was that the supply was being sent abroad."

A record amount of pork to China in April, 129,000 tons, even as the industry was wringing its hands over shortages and appealing to the federal government for exemptions to Covid-19 restrictions imposed on the plants at the state and local level. Keeping the plants open was yo protect their long-term investments in exporting to China, a country that is vital to their growth.

Ben Lilliston, a co-executive director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which advocates for fair and sustainable food systems, told USA Today  that industry claims about shortages do not appear to have been about maintaining American food supplies.

We've been very skeptical about these claims around shortages," said Lilliston. "I think they were able to use the idea of food shortages as leverage."

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