U.S. senators question meatpackers over exports to China during pandemic

CHICAGO, June 24 (Reuters) - Two prominent U.S. Senate Democrats are pressing America’s top meatpackers to disclose by month’s end how much pork, beef and chicken they have shipped to China during the coronavirus outbreak while warning of possible meat shortages at home.

The request from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker increases scrutiny of companies like Tyson Foods Inc, JBS USA and Smithfield Foods, after thousands of meatpacking workers were infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Such companies exported 112,327 tonnes of U.S. pork to China in April, more than any other month before and up 257% from a year earlier, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The exports raise questions about why U.S. meat prices soared and President Donald Trump in April ordered slaughterhouses to stay open to protect the nation’s food supply, Warren and Booker said in a letter to Tyson, JBS, Smithfield and Cargill Inc this week.,

Reuters reported on May 11 that Trump, a Republican, was facing criticism from some lawmakers, consumers and plant employees for putting workers at risk in part to help ensure China’s meat supply.

“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,” Warren and Booker said.

The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

China’s demand for meat imports increased after a fatal pig disease decimated its herd and sent Chinese pork prices to record highs.

The top U.S. pork exports to China in April were frozen meat and carcasses that include most parts of the animal, according to the USDA. China, the world’s top pork consumer, also buys pig parts like feet that many Americans do not eat. (Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Tom Brown)