- Representative Rosa DeLauro sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting an investigation into JBS and whether the meatpacker meets requirements to receive federal subsidies. The Connecticut Democrat is vice chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the USDA.
- DeLauro said in the letter that for several years she has grown concerned about payments to U.S. subsidiaries of the "corrupt" Brazil-based meatpacker. "As part of USDA’s so-called ‘trade aid package,’ JBS has received more than $100 million dollars in payments — assistance that was supposed to have been for struggling farmers and ranchers who have been hurt by the Administration’s failed trade policies," DeLauro wrote.
- This is not the first time DeLauro has called for a probe into JBS. About a year ago, DeLauro asked Perdue for an investigation into payments made to the world's largest meatpacker.
DeLauro's letter comes after Brazilian agribusiness firm J&F Investimentos, parent of JBS SA, pleaded guilty last month to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and agreed to pay about $128 million in criminal fines. Brian Rabbitt, acting assistant attorney general, said J&F admitted to a scheme to bribe officials in Brazil by using U.S. banks and real estate to pay them tens of millions of dollars.
The guilty plea prompted DeLauro to call for this investigation. "In light of a now-proven pattern of criminal conduct, I write to request the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiate suspension and debarment proceedings against JBS USA, the U.S. subsidiary of the Brazilian-owned and controlled meatpacker JBS SA, and each of its companies, including but not limited to Pilgrim’s Pride," DeLauro wrote.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also announced J&F Investimentos and JBS agreed to pay almost $27 million to resolve charges on the foreign bribery case. DeLauro also cited this as a reason for the investigation since she said funds obtained illegally from the bribery scandal were used in JBS's 2009 acquisition of Pilgrim’s Pride.
This latest push is similar to DeLauro's call for an investigation into JBS last year when she asked for more transparency for the USDA’s $28 billion trade aid program. USDA did give the appropriations committee information on trade aid payments made in 2018 to comply with a congressional mandate. DeLauro said those documents showed JBS received more than $90 million in trade aid payments originally described as funding for American farmers and ranchers. Two senators also called for an investigation into JBS last year.
Now DeLauro is bringing back similar claims. She wrote in her most recent letter that U.S. taxpayers have subsidized JBS with hundreds of millions of dollars. In the past, USDA declined to investigate since it could conflict with the DOJ and SEC probes, but this time could be different.
"Given new information recently disclosed by the Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), USDA can no longer deny that which was already apparent," DeLauro wrote. "... USDA’s continued and sustained failure to act is unacceptable, and inaction has become unsustainable under rule of law."
JBS, which is the world's largest meat processor, has been embroiled in scandals around this for years. In 2017, brothers Wesley Batista, former CEO of JBS SA, and Joesley Batista, former chairman, were arrested for allegedly using insider trading to profit from a plea deal when they admitted to bribing nearly 2,000 Brazilian politicians as they grew the company.
This push for a probe only adds to the struggles JBS is facing. As the coronavirus spread in meat plants across the country, workers got sick and some even died. JBS has now received several citations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for "failing to protect employees" from the coronavirus. JBS and other major meat companies also are facing lawsuits and investigations into how they handled the pandemic.