JBS USA has received $62 million in federal subsidies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s bailout program. That’s about where the accuracy of media reports ended on this story Thursday.
Here’s the headline in The New York Daily News: “Trump administration showers Brazilian crooks with $62M bailout money meant for struggling U.S. farmers.”
Here’s another version from AlterNet: “Trump Administration diverted $62 million from struggling US farmers to corrupt businessmen in Brazil: report.”
Both stories suggest Trump’s team somehow funneled $62 million to the Brazilian Batista brothers like it was a back-alley drug payment. Of course, the fact that JBS SA owners Joesley and Wesley Batista confessed to bribing meat inspectors and other top officials in Brazil in 2017 only added to the stories’ sensationalism.
So, what is really happening here? Through the Trump bailout plan, USDA is buying commodities – such as pork from JBS. The pork – from U.S. plants and produced by American pork producers – likely goes into the school lunch program. According to USDA, JBS USA secured nine contracts for federal purchases of pork since mid-January, totaling 18.5 million pounds for $40.1 million. Previously, JBS was awarded contracts for 9.8 million pounds of pork at $22.3 million. Altogether, USDA bought 28.3 million pounds of pork for about $2.20 a pound. That's not exactly "showering" JBS with money, and does not suggest the money was "diverted."
Purchases of pork by USDA helps American farmers – regardless of whether it’s through JBS or another meat packer. But the idea such purchases go to a foreign firm makes the issue a political football. For instance, last November, Smithfield Foods, owned by a Chinese firm, pulled its bid for $240,000 in pork payments after Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, echoed criticisms that the payment meant to help local farmers was going to an international firm.
The criticisms of the JBS purchases have triggered Connecticut Congressman Rosa DeLauro (D) to introduce HR-2712, “To require that purchases of agricultural commodities made by the Secretary of Agriculture under the Food Purchase and Distribution Program be from domestically owned enterprises, and other purposes.”
DeLauro’s bill will give Congress a chance to weigh-in on this subject. But whether the bill passes or not, the Trump Administration is not handing out money to foreign firms. USDA is buying commodities that come from American farmers.