Government panel OKs Smithfield Foods buy

A Chinese firm’s attempt to buy Smithfield Foods has gotten the go-ahead from a federal national security panel.

The approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) represents the last major hurdle for the Virginia-based pork giant's $4.7 billion acquisition, which would be the largest ever of an American company by a Chinese business.

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"This transaction will create a leading global animal protein enterprise," said Zhijun Yang, chief executive of Shuanghui International, in a statement. "Shuanghui International and Smithfield have a long and consistent track record of providing customers around the world with high-quality food, and we look forward to moving ahead together as one company."

CFIUS is an interagency panel led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that seeks to determine whether foreign purchases of American businesses pose any national security risks.

The transaction still has to be approved by Smithfield’s shareholders at an upcoming meeting. The companies expect the deal to close shortly after that.

Smithfield is the world’s largest pork producer.

Lawmakers have expressed skepticism over the deal, which they worry could threaten the integrity of American intellectual property rights and food security.

“I am deeply troubled by the decision to approve this merger and have serious concerns over the negative long-term ramifications of this deal. Smithfield’s acquisition by Shuanghui raises a host of economic and public health issues, which I raised with regulators during this process,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement late Friday evening.

DeLauro, who has been an advocate on food safety issues, added that a legislative response “may be necessary to ensure these issues are taken into account in the future and, if so, I will work to make sure that happens.”

"We still do not know if the potential impact on American food security, the transfer of taxpayer funded innovation to a foreign competitor, or China’s protectionist trade barriers were considered," added Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

"It’s troubling that taxpayers have received no assurances that these critical issues have been taken into account in transferring control of one of America’s largest food producers to a Chinese competitor with a spotty record on food safety," she said.

In 2011, a hazardous drug that makes meat leaner but poses health risks was found in pork produced by Shuanghui.

The current funding bill for financial agencies includes a measure requiring that CFIUS take food safety and intellectual property matters into account during its reviews. That legislation has yet to come before the full House.

-This post was updated at 10:33 a.m.