Smithfield Merger Seven Years Ago To Blame for High Meat Prices, Not Slaughterhouse Closures

New export data shows massive increases in Smithfield meat exports to China despite supply chain handicaps

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Food System

Washington, DC— A report issued by USDA’s Economic Research Service on May 6, 2020, showed there was a significant increase in the volume of exports as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. Now, U.S. consumers are beginning to see increases in meat prices at the counter.

Meanwhile, meat companies like Smithfield and Tyson have been issuing warnings about the domestic meat supply in order to keep slaughterhouses open despite exacerbating the spread of the coronavirus among their workers. 

When the largest pork processor in the U.S., Smithfield, was acquired in 2013 by the PRC’s Shuanghui that later changed its name to the WH Group, farm and consumer groups warned the merger would divert more pork exports to China and increase U.S. pork prices. The recent upsurge in meat exports was especially high in pork to the People’s Republic of China and its semi-autonomous municipality of Hong Kong, which saw a 373% increase for pork products.

In comments submitted in opposition to the 2013 Smithfield acquisition by a farm and consumer coalition, which included Food & Water Watch, the following observations were made:

“The stated purpose of the merger is to increase Smithfield’s pork exports to China. Chinese consumers eat 119.5 billion pounds of pork a year (1.5 billion of it imported).  The merger would provide a steady demand from Shuanghui for pork exports from Smithfield plants and the Chinese-owned firm would face fewer administrative and paperwork barriers to imports from the United States. Diverting more of Smithfield’s supply to exports would tighten up U.S. pork supplies and increase U.S. retail pork prices.”

In response, Tony Corbo, Sr. Government Affairs Representative for Food & Water Watch, said today:

“We won’t let Smithfield and other meat companies heartlessly use the coronavirus pandemic to escape blame for increasing meat prices in the U.S. We’ve been warning for years that large meat company mergers would lead to more exports and higher retail prices in the U.S. The new export data proves that what we predicted seven years ago is exactly what’s happening right now. Slaughterhouses must stay closed to protect workers from COVID-19.”