Farming, food safety groups ask U.S. to stop Smithfield Foods sale

Farm Forum

A coalition of food safety and farm groups is calling on federal regulators to halt the proposed sale of pork giant Smithfield Foods to a Chinese processor – a deal that would represent China’s largest purchase of a U.S. company.

In a letter sent on July 9, the groups asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to oppose the sale of Smithfield to Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd.

The interagency committee is responsible for reviewing sales of American companies to foreign concerns.

“The White House should reject the sale of America’s food supply,” Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, one of the groups involved, said in a statement released on July 9. “The Smithfield purchase turns over American farms to a consolidated, globalized meatpacking industry that leaves rural communities to clean up the waste while China gets the meat.”

China is the U.S.’s third-largest pork export customer, buying more than 500,000 metric tons of pork a year. In 2012 the U.S. exported nearly a quarter of its pork, about 12 percent of it to China, where a growing middle class has increased demand for proteins of all kinds.

Shuanghui and Smithfield announced in late May that Shuanghui would purchase Virginia-based Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, for $4.7 billion. But since the announcement, some lawmakers and producers have cast a critical eye on the deal, and regulatory hurdles remain.

The July 9 letter echoes some lawmakers’ concerns, saying that the deal could pose threats to U.S. secu

-rity interests, undermine food security here, and threaten the safety of the U.S. food supply.

China’s consumers have faced a number of food-related scares in recent years, including reports of adulterated and mislabeled meats. A Shuanghui subsidiary was recently accused of treating hogs with an illegal veterinary drug that’s hazardous for humans.

“The deal has been promoted as a way to facilitate U.S. pork exports to China, but ultimately Shuanghui could export pork back to the United States,” the letter says. “The adoption of Smithfield hog genetics and processing technologies could allow Shuanghui to reverse the global flow of pork.”

Processed pork products, including ham, bacon and sausage, are exempt from mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements, which could mean that American consumers might see familiar brands but remain unaware that they were imported from China, the letter said.

Recently, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed two bills that would have allowed 1 percent of Missouri farmland to be owned by foreign businesses. Missouri is the country’s seventh-largest pork producing state, with about $790 million in gross pork production in 2011.

Language was inserted into the bills by the Missouri House agribusiness committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Casey Guernsey, whose district is home to Premium Standard Farms, a Smithfield subsidiary.

Smithfield said in a statement that it does not disclose the specifics of its property holdings.

“Smithfield Foods and Shuanghui International identified this issue during their discussions, and it presents no obstacles to closing the proposed combination,” Smithfield spokesperson Keira Lombardo said in an email. “We intend to consult and work closely with appropriate state officials on this matter as needed after the closing.”