Pork exports to China soar even as coronavirus shuts meat plants

American producers continued shipping massive loads of pork to China — even as the coronavirus crisis choked the US’s meat supply, a new report says.

Pork exports to China have more than quadrupled compared to a year ago even as the pandemic forced US slaughterhouses and processing plants to close, according to data Reuters published Monday. Those closures have led to meat shortages that could slam US shoppers through the summer.

Producers nonetheless shipped 17,471 tons of pork to China in the week ending April 30, compared with just 3,879 tons in the same week last year, the US Department of Agriculture figures show.

But just 283,000 US hogs were slaughtered April 30, a nearly 40-percent drop from a year before, the data reveal.

Virginia-based Smithfield Foods was the nation’s largest exporter to China in the first three months of the year, shipping at least 13,680 tons by sea in March, according to Reuters. The company — which is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group — warned last month that the virus crisis was pushing the US meat supply “perilously close to the edge.”

A car sporting a sign calling for a safe and healthy workplace drives past Smithfield Foods, IncErin Bormett/The Argus Leader vi

President Trump directed meat companies to keep their plants open last month amid growing concerns about supply constraints. But slaughterhouses that have reopened are only operating at less than half their capacity, The Post reported Sunday.

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor, is revamping its Virginia plant to produce more pork for American consumers after re-configuring it last year to process pigs for China, according to Reuters. And Colorado-based processor JBS told the news agency it has cut exports amid the pandemic to help meet demand in the US.

US pork exports to China have been on the rise since August 2018, when China first spotted the African swine fever that has killed many of its pigs, Reuters reported. China also reportedly pledged to boost its purchases of US farm goods by at least $12.5 billion this year under the January trade deal between the two countries.

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