Vilsack: JBS case shows need to expand US meat processing
JAYUYA, Puerto Rico — The Agriculture Department’s need to continue buying meat from JBS USA after the company’s parent, J&F Investimentos S.A., paid a $256 million fine to the U.S. in 2020 to resolve charges of bribing Brazilian officials shows the importance of expanding meat production in the United States, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said here Tuesday in response to a question from The Hagstrom Report.
After a meeting with coffee farmers here, Vilsack confirmed that he had concluded barring JBS USA from government contracts could hurt taxpayers because the company has so few competitors. Vilsack had made that point in a letter he had written to then-House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., after she had expressed “concern” that USDA “has continued to award government contracts to JBS USA, a large meat processor, despite a series of major criminal and civil actions against the parent company and its affiliates for bribery, price fixing and fraud.”
Vilsack’s decision was revealed by Politico on Tuesday after the publication obtained a copy of Vilsack’s letter to Maloney through a Freedom of Information Act request. A Vilsack spokesman said Politico had to use FOIA to obtain the letter because USDA does not release correspondence with members of Congress.
“Removing a firm from government-wide procurement would potentially impair competitive choice for the taxpayer in securing affordable food for the range of needs that government must provide for, from school lunches to meals for our soldiers,” Vilsack wrote, according to the Politico report.
JBS said in an email, “It is a privilege to participate in federal food assistance programs that help alleviate food insecurity and provide meals to Americans in need. JBS USA is aware of the letter from former Rep. Carolyn Maloney, but had no knowledge of or involvement in any subsequent proceedings. The eligibility of participants is the sole discretion of USDA.”
On Monday, Vilsack announced the latest in a series of expenditures to expand meat and poultry processing around the country. Vilsack told the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that USDA was putting money into the expansion of meat and poultry production to create more markets for the animals grown by American producers and to give consumers greater variety.