ENVIRONMENT
05/27/2019 11:05 EDT

Brazil Subsidiary Awarded $62 Million In U.S. Farm Aid Is Sued Over Colorado Pollution

A lawsuit accuses JBS Swift Beef of violating federal discharge permit by dumping illegal levels of slaughterhouse waste for years.

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Scene from the South Platte River.

A U.S. subsidiary of a Brazilian meatpacking company awarded $62 million in American farm subsidy funds has been hit with a lawsuit accusing it of polluting Colorado waterways.

JBS USA (also known as JBS Swift Beef) — a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A. — is accused of illegally dumping slaughterhouse waste that’s fouling the South Platte River and Lone Tree Creek near Greeley. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating JBS’ foreign parent — the largest meatpacking company in the world — for potential violations of U.S. anti-bribery laws. The billionaire brothers who own JBS S.A. confessed to bribing top Brazilian officials in a massive corruption scandal in Brazil.

The lawsuit against JBS USA claims the company has been violating its federal discharge permit by releasing waste that exceeds the level of pollutants allowed. The Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch filed the action on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver. 

“JBS has been knowingly violating the terms of its permit for years, exposing people and wildlife to dangerous slaughterhouse waste,” Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Waste produced by JBS operations includes animal fat, blood, meat, bacteria, ammonia and excrement. 

“At the same time this multinational corporation is profiting off of contaminating our waterways illegally, it is reaping the rewards of industry’s control over farmers and cozy relationships with regulators by profiting off of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program meant to cushion the effects of Trump’s trade deal on U.S. farmers,” said Jason Harrison, Colorado organizer with Food & Water Watch. 

Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division has sent JBS notices warning the company that it was out of compliance with its discharge permit, The Denver Post reported.

JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said in an email Friday to the Post that the company recently invested “a significant amount” to “improve our processes and ensure compliance.” She added: “We’ve seen strong performance of the treatment process in recent months, and we work closely with the state of Colorado on an ongoing basis.”

JBS was already under scrutiny before the suit was filed amid revelations that the USDA is paying a total of $62.4 million to the company to purchase pork. The funds are part of a total package of $28 billion in subsidies that President Donald Trump has earmarked to pay American farmers to help them weather his trade war. 

According to a statement last week from the USDA, the meatpacking company is eligible for the funds because JBS buys pork from American farmers. But the USDA last year fined the company $50,000 for violating livestock sales laws by failing to give U.S. farmers a full and accurate accounting of transactions.

A JBS political action committee last year donated $46,000 to senators and members of Congress. Only two of 29 recipients were Democrats; the rest were Republicans,

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) fired off an angry letter to Trump last week demanding an explanation for the USDA payments to JBS. 

“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.

“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.”

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.

In his latest press conference about the new round of farm subsidies, Trump said the money to pay for the aid “all comes from China.” However, it doesn’t: U.S. importers pay the tariffs and pass the cost on to American consumers through higher product prices. The money given to farmers is then unavailable for public expenditures, such as education or infrastructure projects.