Fifteen U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle are urging the government to consider food safety as they review the proposed sale of Smithfield Foods, America’s largest pork company, to Shuanghui International, China’s largest meat processor.
The $4.7 billion deal, which would be the largest Chinese takeover of an American company, will be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency committee chaired by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that includes 16 agencies, including the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security, that reviews foreign investment to ensure national security is not compromised. In a letter to the Treasury last week, the Senators asked Mr. Lew to include the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the review process so that both the food supply and food safety issues can be taken into consideration — the latter is especially of concern to American consumers in the wake of a slew of food safety scandals in China.
“We believe that our food supply is critical infrastructure that should be included in any reasonable person’s definition of national security,” read the letter, which was signed by 15 out of 20 senators on the Agriculture Committee. “Any CFIUS review of this transaction should look beyond any direct impact on government agencies and operations to the broader issues of food security, food safety, and biosecurity.”
Citing the potential for other foreign acquisitions of American food and agriculture companies, the lawmakers said they have questions about “whether the appropriate authorities are evaluating potential risks and proposing sufficient mitigation measures to protect American interests” and asked CFIUS to consider making USDA one of the lead agencies on the committee.
“The United States has the safest, most efficient and reliable food supply in the world,” the letter continued. “It is one of our nation’s great strengths, and we must ensure that it is preserved and protected.”
The letter, signed by Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ranking Member Thad Chochran (R-MS) as well as four other Republicans and nine other Democrats, said the committee would examine how the transiction is reviewed and take a look at how similar transactions should be reviewed in the future.
News of the sale of Smithfield Foods, garnered a mixed reaction. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and several food safety experts, including Bill Marler (publisher of Food Safety News), have pointed out that regardless of ownership Smithfield Foods still falls under jurisdiction of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, but others have expressed concerns about whether the acquisition could open the door to unsafe products being imported into the United States.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said, “This potential merger raises real food safety concerns that should alarm consumers…We know that Chinese food products have been a threat to public health and that Shuanghui was found to have produced and sold tainted pork. This merger may only make it more difficult to protect the food supply.”
On Tuesday, China’s Commerce Ministry Shen Danyang responded to the concerns raised by U.S. lawmakers.
“China’s quality management of pork imports and Shuanghui’s purchase of Smithfield are totally unrelated to U.S. food safety,” said Danyang. “We hope the U.S. will treat the merger case fairly and properly.”
Danyang noted that China does not ban U.S. pork imports, the country only prohibits the import of pork from pigs raised on ractopamine, a growth promoting drug widely used in the U.S. pork industry.
As Food Safety News reported earlier this month, the Shuanghui acquisition raises new questions about the future of the controversial feed additive, which is also used by Canada, Brazil, and others, but banned by the European Union, Russia, and China.
This article has been updated to include China’s response.© Food Safety News