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U.S. meat is increasingly being shipped to China, Reuters analysis shows

Nova Safo, David Brancaccio, and Alex Schroeder May 11, 2020
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Smithfield, which is now owned by a Chinese firm, was the biggest exporter of American pork to China in the first quarter. Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

U.S. meat is increasingly being shipped to China, Reuters analysis shows

Nova Safo, David Brancaccio, and Alex Schroeder May 11, 2020
Heard on:
Smithfield, which is now owned by a Chinese firm, was the biggest exporter of American pork to China in the first quarter. Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

We’ve been reporting on shortages in U.S. supermarkets with meat processing plants closed after workers were getting sick from the coronavirus.

Now, data has emerged that U.S. meat is still being shipped overseas, especially to China.

China has been ramping up its purchases of American meat products, because it’s faced its own shortages “due to a pig disease called African swine fever that’s led to the death of half the country’s herd over the past two years,” Reuters reports.

Also, in January, the Trump administration signed a deal to ease the trade war with China, and that included commitments from the Chinese to buy more American farm exports.

According to government data analyzed by Reuters, China has been buying.

Pork supplies are down about 40% since mid-March in the U.S., but pork shipments to China have quadrupled in that same time period. About a third of all U.S. produced pork has been exported so far this year.

President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act last month to keep meat plants open to bolster U.S. supplies. How does that square with what the data is showing?

If you look at the first quarter, January to March, the company Smithfield, which is owned by a Chinese firm, was the biggest exporter of American pork to China. Keep in mind, there are things being shipped that Americans don’t eat, such as pig’s feet.

Smithfield says it’s now retooling one of its plants here in the U.S. to make more meat for American consumers. Another major meat processor, JBS, says it has reduced its exports to meet U.S. demand.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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