Shuanghui International, China’s largest meat processor, has agreed to buy Smithfield foods, America’s largest pork producer, for $4.7 billion, according to multiple press reports Wednesday.
If approved, the deal is not expected to have a major impact on food safety for domestic pork, as the company will remain under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but consumers largely responded with concern about China’s involvement in the U.S. supply because the country has struggled with a rash of food safety incidents.
Responses on Twitter ranged from “China is now outsourcing food scandals,” to “They [China] cant even make baby formula. No more ham for me, ” and “I will not purchase this product again.”
“This potential merger raises real food safety concerns that should alarm consumers,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a longtime proponent of tougher food safety regulations. ” 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.”
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch blasted the merger, saying in a statement that the deal is “bad news for U.S. farmers and consumers, the environment and food safety.”
“While it’s making business news headlines, U.S. consumers will likely not take notice of the change, but it will show up on their plates in the form of farmer exploitation, more factory farms and a more complicated supply chain that leaves consumers at higher risk of food contamination,” said Hauter.
Bill Marler, a leading food safety expert and partner at Marler Clark LLP (underwriter and publisher of Food Safety News) said Wednesday that the merger would probably not have a big impact when it comes to contaminated food.
“Smithfield has had a good record over the years,” said Marler, who noted that the company has only had a few recalls and none “that I know of” that were linked to illnesses.
“As for the sales to a Chinese company, they still have to play by the same rules regardless of who they are owned by,” he added. “Simply because they are now owned by a Chinese firm does not make it automatically an unsafe facility. It is true that China has struggled – especially in its domestic market – to produce safe food. However, I do not see that it has translated to exports to the US in a great way, and I do not expect food safety problems from them in US production.”