Another bipartisan proposal with a security bent has been introduced by two powerful Midwestern senators. The legislation would put agriculture and food officials into permanent slots on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
CFIUS is an inter-agency committee authorized to review transactions that could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign person (“covered transactions”), in order to determine the effect of such transactions on the national security of the United States.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan have introduced the “Food Security is National Security Act of 2017” will also include new agriculture and food-related criteria for CFIUS to consider when reviewing transactions that could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign company.
“As we think about the future and the growing global population, it’s important to consider who will control the food supply. Today, there may not be a food shortage in the world, only distribution problems that are more the result of politics not logistics, but in the decades to come, it may be a different story,” Grassley said. “The approval by CFIUS of the sale of U.S. agricultural assets seem more focused on the present state of the food industry instead of the future supply situation. We owe it to our farmers and Americans who rely on farmers to grow their food to be more strategic. Especially as countries around the world are making moves to ensure adequate supplies.”
“Protecting the integrity, safety, and resiliency of America’s food system is core to our national security,” Stabenow said. “As foreign entities continue their aggressive acquisitions of U.S. food and agriculture companies, it’s imperative that these transactions face additional scrutiny. This bill ensures that the U.S. has the appropriate tools and people in place to safeguard America’s food security, food safety, biosecurity, and the highly competitive U.S. farm sector as a whole.”
CFIUS is a panel of government officials tasked with reviewing proposed mergers and acquisitions of U.S. companies, including foreign entities seeking to purchase U.S. agricultural and food assets. The job of CFIUS is to assess whether or not transactions initiated by foreign entities threaten to impair U.S. national security interests. Currently, CFIUS does not include permanent representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—the two departments of government with primary responsibility for safeguarding the integrity, resiliency, and quality of America’s food supply.
The Food Security National Security Act of 2017 recognizes the contribution agriculture makes to the country’s national security and the vital role it plays in the economy. The legislation gives both the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (who oversees the Food and Drug Administration) permanent representation on CFIUS to protect U.S. food security.
The legislation also adds new criteria to the CFIUS review process to ensure that proposed transactions are reviewed specifically for their potential impact on American food and agricultural systems, including availability of, access to, or safety and quality of food. Specifically including food and agriculture in the review process is an important national security safeguard and sends a strong signal to potential foreign purchasers.
Key agriculture stakeholders also understand the importance of bringing an agricultural perspective to the CFIUS review process. Two of the largest farm organizations, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, support the Food Security is National Security Act of 2017, echoing the call to evaluate the potential effects of mergers and acquisitions in agriculture.
“The food system in the United States is world class not only because of our great farmers and ranchers, but for the entire supply chain as well. Monitoring and evaluating the effects of mergers and acquisitions in agriculture as well as food production and distribution is critical and the Secretary of Agriculture would bring vital knowledge to the table,” said Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau.
Earlier this month, the “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act” was introduced by a bipartisan group of Senate Agriculture Committee members to guard against “agro-terrorism.”
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)