Washington, D.C. – In recent media accounts, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has defended the agency’s policy of awarding trade mitigation bailout money meant for struggling U.S. farmers to JBS – the largest meatpacker in the world, which is currently mired in multiple scandals in its home country of Brazil. In a statement to the press last week, Secretary Perdue defended the agency’s dealings with JBS, saying “This is no different than people buying Volkswagens or other foreign autos where their executives may have been guilty of some issue along the way.”
“Instead of showing this international outlaw the door, Sonny Perdue is showering JBS with money meant to help U.S. farmers,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director at Food & Water Watch. “It’s time for Congress to investigate this relationship because something just does not add up. In addition to diverting money away from our rural economies to a multinational corporation, the USDA’s preferential treatment of scandal-plagued JBS is endangering our public health and food safety.”
Over the past year, there have been five meat recalls involving JBS-affiliated meat and poultry plants:
- The JBS Tolleson Plant recalled over 12 million pounds of beef products tied to a foodborne illness outbreak that sickened at least 246 consumers. Of the recalled amount, only 166,000 pounds were recovered. At a May 22, 2019 meeting between food safety consumer groups and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) officials, the agency revealed that it sent multiple letters to JBS officials chastising them for the slow action taken by the company to remove the contaminated product from commerce. The plant in question is also an “approved vendor” to sell its products to the nutrition programs USDA administers, including the National School Lunch Program.
- The JBS-Swift plant in Hyrum, Utah recalled over 99,000 pounds of beef products contaminated with E.coli 0157:H7.
- The JBS plant located in Lenoir, NC recalled over 35,000 pounds of ground beef products after receiving consumer complaints that hard plastic was found in the products.
- The JBS-owned Pilgrim’s Pride plant located in Mt. Pleasant, Texas recalled 58,000 pounds of breaded chicken products after consumers complained of finding rubber in the products.
- The JBS plant located in Plainwell, Michigan recalled over 43,000 pounds of ground beef products after receiving consumer complaints that they found hard plastic in the product.
In addition to the recalls, on April 23, 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to the management of the JBS plant located in Souderton, PA after the agency discovered the presence of the euthanasia drug, pentobarbital, in beef products destined for use in the manufacture of pet food.
A JBS hog slaughter plant experimenting with privatized inspection has numerous regulatory violations. The JBS-Swift facility in Beardstown, IL has been part of a USDA pilot project in which most of the inspection responsibilities on the slaughter line have been transferred from USDA inspectors to company employees, while slaughter line speeds are also increased. The Beardstown plant has been cited for numerous regulatory violations and has been the subject of recent media scrutiny. The plant is also eligible to sell its products to the USDA nutrition programs and has been the beneficiary of the trade mitigation commodity purchase program.
On top of this troubling record of food safety problems, the company has also been accused of short-changing U.S. ranchers. The company agreed to pay a fine in December 2018 for violating the Packers and Stockyards Act by failing to keep accurate records of cattle weights and grades, resulting in inaccurate payments to ranchers who sold those animals.
The former USDA Deputy Under Secretary for food safety, Alfred V. Almanza, is currently the Vice President for Global Food and Safety and Quality at JBS, a position he has held since August 2017. While at USDA, Mr. Almanza was informing meat industry trade groups of USDA’s intention to expand the privatized inspection model to other hog slaughter facilities. In return, the North American Meat Institute awarded Mr. Almanza with its highest honor.
“The USDA-JBS revolving door is alive and well,” said Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist at Food & Water Watch. “The relationship between the agency and this multinational corporation is not only cozy; it’s unseemly. Congress should step in and investigate these crooked deals that enrich JBS at the expense of our farmers and food safety.”
Corbo continued: “Sonny Perdue claims that the motto for USDA is ‘Do right, and feed everybody.’ These days, it’s more like, ‘Do wrong, and we'll feed your profits.’”
Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.
Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]