The U.S. had millions of pounds of meat in cold storage and continued to export billions of pounds worth of products even as leaders in the meat industry warned that drastic measures were needed to keep the food supply chain from breaking down, USA Today reports. While the warnings in late April sparked panic among Americans and led to President Trump invoking the Defense Production Act, a review of federal data by USA Today is said to show that there was never any threat of a real meat shortage, suggesting the issue was hyped up to justify Trump’s order for meatpacking plants to stay open, even at the risk of workers’ health.
“We’ve been very skeptical about these claims around shortages,” Ben Lilliston, of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, told USA Today. “I think they were able to use the idea of food shortages as leverage to get those two things.” Although there was a dip in production from mid-March to late April, according to the report, the amount of beef and pork exported in that time period was higher than that which was lost. The amount of red meat and poultry in cold storage also grew rather than declined, gaining 40 million pounds from March to April for a total of about 2.5 billion pounds.