Last year, as the meatpacking industry’s frontline workers were infected with COVID-19 and the industry pushed claims of a meat shortage, companies in the U.S. exported more than $22 billion in meat products, continuing an upward trend in foreign sales since 2016.

Trade data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that in 2020 the value of American meat exports reached its highest level since 2014. Companies exporting meat products from the Midwest also fared well, increasing sales by about $500 million from 2019 to 2020. 

In order to prevent plants from shutting down, the meatpacking industry lobbied the federal government to designate meatpacking plants as essential businesses, stoking fears of leaving consumers’ tables absent of beef, pork and chicken.

[Read more: Infected. Exhausted. Distressed. A year of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants.]

USA TODAY reported in June 2020 that, while meat production tanked from mid-March through the end of April, exports increased and the industry never had to tap into its reserves.

More than 50,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19 and nearly 250 have died, according to Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting tracking. 

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