A Facebook post showing a picture of empty meat shelves inside an unidentified Walmart store lays the claim that Walmart locations across the country are out of meat is because the company’s owners, the Walton family, “are deliberately not purchasing beef on purpose to make life harder on you in an attempt to sway you subconsciously into associating the struggles and hardships of this fictitious crisis with our currently seated president in order to sway the election.”
The post by B.j. Berry on May 27 has nearly 300 shares, and the same image and text have been circulating virally on social media. A posted screenshot shows the Reopen MN group sharing a May 16 post with the same claim.
Let’s unpack the allegations here.
Who owns and runs Walmart?
The first question: Who owns and operates Walmart?
The company that runs Walmart, Sam’s Club and Walmart eCommerce is publicly traded, and members of the Walton family own nearly half of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) shares. But they are not the only voices in the room. For example, Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart eCommerce US, owns 3.3 million shares and is among the top four shareholders.
The day-to-day operations aren’t handled by the Waltons. Doug McMillon is the company’s CEO; John Furner is the CEO of Walmart U.S. and Meng Chee is the chief product officer, according to the company’s website.
Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.
Have any of the Waltons taken a public positions President Donald Trump?
Christy Walton, wife of the late John Walton and daughter-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is a major donor to an anti-Trump Republican super-PAC called The Lincoln Project, according to Forbes magazine. The group’s website states the president presents “a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic.”
She has also donated two Democratic presidential candidates from Colorado, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and former Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Christy Walton, who received only part of her late’s husbands shares, is not among the top individual shareholders in Wal-Mart Stores Inc., according to Investopedia.
Her son, Lukas Walton, who inherited twice as many shares in the company as his mother when his father died, has donated to a mix of Democrats and Republicans, according to OpenSecrets,org.
Walmart heiress Alice Walton, among the top four stockholders, has contributed to both Republicans and Democrats over the years, including major contributions to the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Outside of the Walton family, Marc Lore has donated to the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden, OpenSecrets reports. Other top Wal-Mart Stores executives have not made recent political donations of note.
There is no public evidence to suggest Walton family members or top company executives pushed Wal-Mart Stores to stop buying meat in order to hurt the president’s reelection chances.
About that in-store picture
But what about the photo? Is it real?
A Google image search was unable to pinpoint the source of the photo, but it’s likely the photo of empty shelves was taken at a Walmart in recent weeks and is unaltered. News reports from such national outlets as CNBC, The Wall Street Journal, CNET and USA TODAY have all used similar images while reporting on this issue amid the coronavirus pandemic.
If the photo is real, why are grocery stores and big box retailers across the country running low on beef, chicken and pork?
Tyson Foods, which processes about 20% of the beef, chicken and pork in the U.S., took out a full-page ad in the New York Times back in April to explain what’s been happening to its industry.
More: ‘Cows will need bred’: Coronavirus is hitting the meat industry all the way up to animal breeders
The Arkansas-based company wrote that “the food supply chain in breaking” because processing plants have had to close after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” John Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods, wrote. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”
The Associated Press reported the company closed one of its largest pork processing plants after more than 180 infections were linked to the Iowa location. Tyson closed another plant in Indiana after 40% of its workers (about 890 people) tested positive.
More: Cheap chicken, beef came at a cost. How American meat plants bred coronavirus hot spots.
JBS, a company that processes about a quarter of America’s cattle, had to close a number of its plants across the U.S. and says COVID-19 could affect production for months.
The Centers for Disease Control reported in early May that it knew of 4,913 cases and 20 deaths from 115 meat and poultry processing plants in 29 states.
“Factors potentially affecting risk for infection include difficulties with workplace physical distancing and hygiene and crowded living and transportation conditions,” according to the CDC’s report.
The impact in stores
How have all these closures affected grocery stores?
Well, the United States Department of Agriculture issues weekly reports on meat production, and it had beef production down 25% year-over-year and pork production down 15% for the week of April 27. For the week of June 1, the USDA reported beef production down 5% and pork production down 8%.
That means there was less meat for companies like Walmart to buy, and that’s why shoppers saw rows of empty shelves. But Walmart isn’t exclusively feeling this pinch; it extends to chains like Kroger, Costco, and beyond.
Many grocery store chains like Kroger and Costco have started limiting the amount of meat customers can buy.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in late April to keep meat processing plants open during the coronavirus pandemic. The order gave Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue the power force plants to reopen by invoking the Defense Production Act, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Major processors, such as Tyson, state they’re working on safety upgrades and securing personal protective equipment, but some of their plants remain closed.
Our rating: False
The claim that the shortage of meat products in Walmart store is because the family who founded the company wants to hurt the president’s re-election chances this fall is FALSE.
Stores not owned by the Waltons have faced similar shortages and are limiting sales of their beef, chicken and pork products. Meat processors have been closing plants due to COVID-19 outbreaks among workers. And the USDA has reported substantial declines in meat production due to these closures.
Our fact-check sources:
CNBC, “The meat supply chain is broken. Here’s why shortages are likely to last during the coronavirus pandemic”
The Wall Street Journal, “A Smart Guide to the U.S. Meat Shortage”
CNET, “Is there really a meat shortage? Why you’re seeing less beef, pork and chicken in stores”
TIME, “‘The Food Supply Chain Is Breaking.’ Tyson Foods Warns of Meat Shortage as Plants Close Due to COVID-19
Associated Press, “Tyson Foods idles largest pork plant as virus slams industry
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
USDA, Weekly livestock, poultry & grain market highlights
USDA, “USDA To Implement President Trump’s Executive Order On Meat and Poultry Processors”
Forbes, “Walmart Billionaire Christy Walton Among Biggest Donors To Anti-Trump Republican Group Facing Trump’s Ire”
Forbes, “Here Are The Billionaires Backing Michael Bennet’s Presidential Campaign”
Investopedia, The Top 4 Walmart Shareholders
OpenSecrets.org donor lookup
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Walmart isn’t trying to sway 2020 race with meat shortages