Senate panel to probe Smithfield Foods purchase

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The sale has concerned legislators on both sides of the aisle, who want regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies to make sure that the company is held to a high standard of food safety.

In a letter to the USDA, Treasury Department, U.S. Trade Representative and Department of Justice on Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) expressed concerns that imports of Chinese pork "would raise a host of food safety concerns as China’s food safety system remains wholly inadequate leading to unsafe exported food products."

In 2011, Shuanghui was found to have produced pork laced with a hazardous drug that makes meat leaner but also poses risks to human health.

Warren and DeLauro also worried that the sale threatens American intellectual property.

"Rather than open its market to U.S. food products, China’s policy is to attain self-sufficiency in its food supply while maintaining food processing and production in China," they wrote. "China is seeking to do this in the same way that it conducts business in other sectors, purchasing a foreign company to obtain its knowledge and technology to then build its own competing product."

Last week, 15 senators, including Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (Miss.), the chairwoman and top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to allow the USDA and Food and Drug Administration to review the sale. 

Lew is the chairman of the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which evaluates foreign purchases of American companies to determine whether they post a threat to national security.

Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the world.

Larry Pope, Smithfield's chief executive, will testify before the committee, as will other witnesses who have yet to be announced.