A Connecticut congresswoman has called for an investigation into why millions of dollars earmarked to help American farmers weather Donald Trump’s trade war with China are going to a U.S. subsidiary of a massive Brazilian meatpacking operation slammed for corruption.
Majority shareholders of the Brazilian company JBS S.A. have admitted to bribing government officials in their own country for years. They’re currently being investigated for possible corruption in America by U.S. officials, according to media reports.
The company’s American subsidiary, JBS USA, has received at least $78 million in government pork contracts funded with farm trade aid paid by U.S. taxpayers — more than any other U.S. pork producer, according to the Midwest Center of Investigative Reporting. JBS S.A. is the largest meat producer in the world.
“Taxpayer dollars should never be used to subsidize corrupt, foreign-owned corporations ... engaged in illegal behavior,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue late last week. “I urge you to immediately direct the department’s Inspector General to conduct the necessary investigation.”
DeLauro’s call for a probe comes as the latest analysis of payouts of a planned total of $28 billion to aid farmers amid the trade war reveals — again — that at least half of the money is being disbursed to the largest, wealthiest operations, instead of to smaller farms fighting to survive. Trump, however, has indicated that smaller farms will be “big beneficiaries” of the aid program.
The top 10% of operations — the “largest, most profitable industrial-scale farms in the country” – got half of the $14.5 billion in aid paid out from Aug. 19 through October, according to an analysis of data by the Environmental Working Group. The findings were nearly identical for the $8.4 billion paid out from January 2018 through April 2019.
Higher rates per acre this year are also being paid overwhelmingly to Southern farms, an area of the country that heavily supported Trump in the 2016 election, even though farmers there have been harmed less than in other regions, according to a report this month by Democrats on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. The report estimates payments to JBS at $90 million.
Majority owners of the company’s Brazilian parent, Wesley and Joesley Batista, have admitted to massive bribery of government officials in Brazil over years. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Batistas for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal anti-bribery law, according to filings in an unrelated court case. U.S. investigators interviewed JBS shareholders late last year as part of that investigation, Reuters reported.
In addition, JBS USA (also known as JBS Swift Beef Co.) was hit with a lawsuit earlier this year accusing the company of violating a federal permit by dumping illegal levels of slaughterhouse waste for years.
DeLauro has also called on the Department of Agriculture to determine if funds used to purchase American operations may have been obtained illegally — such as through bribery of Brazilian officials to obtain loans.
Last month Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also called for a review of the Brazilian company’s purchases of U.S. operations to determine if the business expansion compromised national security.
They expressed their “concern” in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that JBS S.A. officials have “admitted” to “criminal conduct to secure loans that were used for investment in the United States.”
JBS could not immediately be reached for comment about DeLauro’s call for an investigation. But a representative said in a statement earlier this year after an uproar over its U.S. farm aid that “all eligible JBS USA pork products” it purchases (then sells to the Department of Agriculture) “come from American livestock raised on American farms by U.S. family farmers, and are processed in American facilities in rural American towns.”
Earlier this year, a USDA statement also defended using trade aid to fund purchases from JBS USA. “Regardless of who the vendor is, the products purchased are grown in the U.S. and benefit U.S. farmers,” the statement said.