A proposed deal between Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of pork in the United States and Shuanghui International, one of China’s largest food conglomerates, has officials concerned about the impact on U.S. food supply and food safety.
“To have a Chinese food company controlling a major U.S. meat supplier is a bit concerning,” said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), in a statement after the deal was announced. Grassley is urging the government to scrutinize the deal, including any involvement the Chinese government may have.”
The deal – the largest Chinese buyout of an American firm to-date – would put Smithfield in the hands of Shuanghui International. China is known for lax food safety, which is a major safety concern. In fact, two years ago Shuanghui was under fire in a food-safety scandal at home and admitted it had used a banned, carcinogenic additive in its pig feed. While no deaths resulted from the contaminated feed, the company closed down the plant where it was made and publicly apologized.
Smithfield employs an estimated 5,300 people at its plant in Tar Heel and another 1,700 at its facility in Clinton. It also owns more than 400 hog farms and has contracts with more than 2,000 family farmers across the U.S.
Deal Raises Concern over Heparin Drug Safety
U.S. lawmakers are concerned that the buyout could also affect the availability and safety of heparin, a blood-thinner that is widely used in heart surgery and kidney dialysis which is derived from pig intestines.
On July 24 Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to Smithfield asking the company to turn over information on its production of crude heparin, the raw ingredient used in the drug.
The U.S. government is taking an additional 45 days to review the planned deal.
This is a precedent-setting case and the long-term implications need to be considered. Smithfield may be the first Chinese acquisition of a major food brand, but it’s not likely the last.