Feds pressed to probe food safety risks of Chinese Smithfield deal

Legislation approved this week by the House Appropriations Committee includes language reguiring regulators to examine the food safety implications of a Chinese firm’s $4.7 billion offer to acquire Virgina's Smithfield Foods. 

Smithfield is the world’s largest pork producer and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questioned whether Shuanghui International should be allowed to take over the company. The deal would reflect the largest ever acquisition of an American company by a Chinese firm.

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“Public officials have a responsibility to protect American consumers and businesses," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who penned language requiring the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to consider food safety, food security as well as intellectual property issues related to the proposed sale. “That includes ensuring a fair economic playing field and the safety and security of our food supply.”

CFIUS is an interagency committee charged with determining whether purchases of U.S. businesses by foreign interests could threaten national security, but DeLauro's measure would broaden their inquiry for Smithfield.

The language was attached to a House Financial Services Appropriations bill approved Wednesday and requires CFIUS to examine safety concerns before allowing the blockbuster deal to go through. 

The provision won bipartisan support, including the backing of Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), DeLauro said. 

"The Committee is concerned about the ramifications of the Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. potential acquisition of Smithfield Foods,” the language reads. “The Committee believes that technology transfer, food safety, and food security issues are concerns that should be considered in any Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review of the acquisition."

In 2011, it was revealed that some Shuanghui products contained a hazardous and banned chemical used to make meat leaner. The case was just one part of an ongoing scandal involving tainted or fake Chinese meat. 

Under questioning from lawmakers in the Senate last week, Smithfield president Larry Pope pledged that the deal would bring new jobs to the United States, without threatening food safety or national security. 

“There will be no noticeable impact on how we do business,” Pope told the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Except we plan to do more of it.” 

CFIUS is prohibited by law from discussing any of the cases under its review, and has declined comment on the Smithfield case.