Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) has fired off an angry letter to President Donald Trump, demanding an explanation for why a $62 million payment — meant to help struggling U.S. farmers — ended up going to the subsidiary of a Brazilian meatpacking company under investigation by the Department of Justice.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is paying a total of $62.4 million to buy pork from JBS USA — whose parent company is Brazil-based JBS S.A. — using taxpayer funds intended to help U.S. farmers weather Trump’s trade war. JBS S.A. is the largest meatpacking company in the world.
The company’s owners, brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, served prison time in Brazil after admitting to bribing top Brazilian officials in a massive corruption scandal. Both the U.S. Justice Department and Security and Exchange Commission are investigating JBS for “potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” which outlaws bribery, among other offenses. Justice Department investigators interviewed the Batista brothers in Brazil late last year.
“Allowing taxpayer funds to support foreign agricultural companies, particularly corrupt foreign companies, at a time when farmers in Wisconsin and across the country are suffering from pain caused by your trade wars is outrageous and I’m calling on you to explain how you allowed this to happen,” Baldwin wrote in her letter to Trump Thursday.
Trump announced on Thursday that he is allocating an additional $16 billion in aid to help farmers survive his own trade war. That’s in addition to $12 billion earmarked last year for tariff aid to farmers.
Baldwin said that Trump’s trade war with China has contributed to a record 1,500 bankruptcies in Wisconsin dairy operations since Trump took office. In April alone, the state lost 90 dairy farms to bankruptcies, Baldwin said.
“Farmer aid packages that provide payments to huge foreign companies add insult to injury,” Baldwin wrote Trump. “Providing aid to foreign companies that have a history of corruption and are under investigation by your own Administration is simply outrageous.”
A USDA statement last week defended the JBS payments. “Regardless of who the vendor is, the products purchased are grown in the U.S. and benefit U.S. farmers,” the statement read. JBS “qualifies as a bidder,” the statement argues, saying it is eligible for American subsidies.
But Baldwin pointed out that the Department of Agriculture fined JBS USA $50,000 late last year for violating livestock sales laws by failing to give U.S. farmers a full and accurate accounting of transactions.
U.S. farm aid should not “pad the pockets of rich foreign businessmen who have done none of the work it takes to grow crops [and] raise livestock,” Baldwin wrote.
Trump said the money to cover the extra $16 billion in farm aid (a total of $28 billion over two years) “all comes from China.” It doesn’t. U.S. businesses and consumers cover the cost of the tariffs Trump has imposed by paying higher prices for products.