If the $7.1 billion sale is completed, it would be among the largest Chinese acquisitions of a U.S. company — 26 percent of U.S. pork processing and 15 percent of domestic hog production will be controlled by a Chinese company.
But in addition to the magnitude of the sale, some lawmakers are correctly questioning the wisdom of the business transaction, considering China’s deplorable food safety record.
In 2010, Shuanghui International — China’s leading pork producer — admitted that an illegal additive was put in its food products. Moreover, thousands of dead hogs were found earlier this year floating down the Huangpu River in Shanghai.
In short, China’s entire food system is nothing short of a nightmare, plagued by report after report of some form of contamination.
In fact, Huasheng Online, a news website published by the Hunan Daily Press Group, said environmental protection and animal hygiene authorities in Changsha, Hunan province, are investigating allegations that a pig farm in central China is dissolving dead pigs in a chemical solution and pumping the resulting remains down its drains, which empty into a river.
China’s public security ministry recently announced that 900 people had been detained for meat-related crimes including selling rat and fox meat as beef and mutton.
And in another recent incident, “US fast food giant KFC was hit by controversy after revealing some Chinese suppliers provided chicken with high levels of antibiotics, in what appeared to be an industry-wide practice.”
Sen. Stabenow, chairwoman Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, said earlier this week the agencies responsible for approving this possible merger “must take into account China and Shuanghui’s troubling track record on food safety and do everything in their power to ensure our national security and the health of our families is not jeopardized.”
Others who have voiced concerns are Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes.
“Grassley thinks the deal could squeeze family farmers and independent producers out of competitive markets and has called for reviews by the Justice Department and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment.”
“This is a great transaction for all Smithfield stakeholders, as well as for American farmers and U.S. agriculture,” said C. Larry Pope, president and chief executive officer of Smithfield, who has a history of exporting to China.
According to Steve Meyer, president of Iowa-based Paragon Economics, the deal will not result in the United States importing hogs because of food-safety concerns. “The hogs, the jobs will still come from the U.S,” he told AgriNews. “A Chinese company will own it, but everything is geographically here.”
I wouldn’t bet my health on Meyer’s comments. If cheaper Chinese hogs can be imported and slipped past US regulators, and sold to US consumers, you can bet Smithfield’s new Chinese owners will do just that.
In fact if this deal goes through, some informed consumers may stay permanently clear of all Smithfield products.