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January 2020, Volume 26, Number 1

Meat and Migrants

Brazil's JBS began to acquire US meat processors in 2007, beginning with beef and pork producer Swift. Today JBS and three other beef processors process 85 percent of US beef, JBS and Tyson account for 40 percent of US poultry, and JBS and three other pork processors account for 70 percent of US pork.

The 189,000 residents of Micronesia (113,000 people), Palau (18,000) and the Marshall Islands (58,000) may live and work legally in the US under their Compacts of Free Association with the US. Recruiters for Seaboard Triumph Foods, which employs 2,400 people to process 21,000 hogs a day in Sioux City, Iowa, lured 200 Micronesians to the plant with promises of $16 an hour wages, and threatened workers who complained about expensive housing and the need to repay $1,800 one-way airfares. Recruiters took the workers' passports, ostensibly to verify their right to work, and did not return them.

Some of the workers said that they were treated fairly, and that complaints of poor treatment came from a few Micronesians that were amplified by NGOs and the media.

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods developed plant-based meat substitutes that proved popular with consumers, prompting Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, Hormel and Nestl? and other food companies to offer plant-based burgers and chicken nuggets. Some meat firms offer a mixture of meat and plant products.

Most meatpacking is in rural and agricultural areas of the Midwest where feed for animals is produced. Many Midwestern areas have lost manufacturing jobs, and are not creating jobs in fast-growing sunrise sectors such as software and pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and data processing. Instead, Boston, Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco and Silicon Valley had a quarter of jobs in these sectors in 2017, while half of the 382 US metro areas lost jobs in these sectors in the decade to 2017.

Labor-intensive manufacturing moved to the south and rural areas for low labor costs. Today's innovation industries seek highly educated workers and a research infrastructure in major cities.