Washington, DC — Yesterday, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis released a blockbuster report revealing the devious and unethical underpinnings of meat corporations’ lobbying efforts in the early months of the pandemic. Based on 151,000 pages of documents, calls with meatpacking workers and union representatives, and briefings with officials, the report details the extent of the meatpackers’ influence over the Trump administration, which enabled them to reap record profits and increase global exports while endangering workers and causing needless retail shortages.
“The unconscionable actions by these big meatpackers are a scourge on our society and a threat to our national security. Since consolidated market power enables these abuses, the big meatpackers have demonstrated why the Biden administration must break up Big Meat monopolies, end support of Big Meat through USDA food procurement programs, and expedite their investment in the local and regional food systems that stepped up to feed people during the pandemic,” said Angela Huffman, Vice President of Farm Action. “We commend Chairman Clyburn and the committee for their extensive, but alarming report.”
According to Chairman Clyburn, the “investigation has revealed that former President Trump’s political appointees at USDA collaborated with large meatpacking companies to lead an Administration-wide effort to force workers to remain on the job during the coronavirus crisis despite dangerous conditions, and even to prevent the imposition of commonsense mitigation measures. This coordinated campaign prioritized industry production over the health of workers and communities, and contributed to tens of thousands of workers becoming ill, hundreds of workers dying, and the virus spreading throughout surrounding areas.”
It is critical to note that dominant firms’ undue influence on our political system is not isolated to the Trump administration. The USDA has a long history of operating as a revolving door for executives from large food corporations and other industry representatives, and this practice is especially pronounced in the meatpacking industry. For many decades, industry leaders have routinely held positions intended to protect consumers and producers from industry’s abusive practices. Conversely, USDA employees frequently move on to high-paying industry roles following their tenure at the USDA.
A few examples of such movements between the meatpacking industry and the USDA include:
Al Amanza, former head of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), was appointed Global Head of Food Safety and Quality for JBS-SA following his tenure at the USDA. In his role at FSIS during the Obama administration, he took 90 days to ban Brazilian imports of beef when JBS was caught exporting rotten meat worldwide. Out of every country that received rotten exports — including China — the U.S. was the very last to suspend imports of Brazilian beef.
In 2007 Barry Carpenter, the head of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Livestock and Seed Division, became the head of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).
Bill Sessions, who currently serves as NAMI’s Director of Product Marketing and Promotion, was the Associate Deputy Administrator of AMS Livestock and Seed Program.
Craig Morris was a manager at NAMI; in 2004 he became the Deputy Administrator of the AMS Livestock Seed Program, and in 2017 returned to the industry to become Vice President of International Marketing for the National Pork Board.
Furthermore, such cronyism is not limited to the USDA: John Boehner, former speaker of the House, now sits on the board of JBS — one of the largest protein conglomerates in the world.
Due to meatpacking corporations’ unprecedented size and corresponding control over our food system, they are able to distort our political economy at the cost of producers, consumers, and — in this instance — the very safety of our food-system workers. In comments we recently submitted to the DOJ and FTC regarding merger review policy, we outline how their size and market control allow them to dictate policy, just as this recent report by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has demonstrated.