U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) saw the handwriting on the wall spelling out trouble almost six years ago when the Obama administration first seemed inclined to allow Chinese-owned Shuanghui International Holdings, now known as WH Group, to acquire American flagship company Smithfield Foods.
Fast-forward to today and all the longtime food safety advocate’s concerns, along with those of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who also sought answers from Obama administration officials about free and fair competition, seem more than justified as U.S. farmers were recently hit with retaliatory tariffs from the Chinese government on imports amounting to more than $100 billion.
In initially addressing the issue, the two lawmakers penned a letter in 2013 to members of the Obama administration stating “the proposed Shuanghui acquisition of Smithfield Foods is a highly consequential merger of two large food producers that warrants careful scrutiny by regulators. As regulators responsible for promoting free and fair competition in the marketplace, ensuring strong intellectual property laws and effective enforcement, reviewing foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies, and protecting the safety of our food supply, we believe your views on key issues related to this proposed merger are critical.”
President Donald Trump used a United Nations General Assembly address to assure farmers of a better future last September.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro
Around that same time, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue introduced a new program that would offer up to $12 billion in three forms of taxpayer aid, all of it aimed at lessening the hurt for farmers.
According to RevealNews.org, the larger issue for U.S. officials should be the question of if Shuanghui’s takeover of Smithfield, producer of the iconic ham here in the U.S. and at the time the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, “signal a concerted effort to control food supplies by one of the world’s most-powerful governments” at a time when “the world is set for a geopolitical struggle over food.”
With its $7.1 billion valued takeover of Smithfield, Shanghai now owns one in four pigs raised here in the U.S. as its government is already reported to be dealing with an imminent food shortage that has leaders aggressively pushing for more such acquisitions as part of a global buying spree.
“If the Chinese government was involved in the 2013 deal, some influential U.S. lawmakers say they need to take action to protect against foreign intervention in a vital U.S. resource,” RevealNews stated.
Added Earth Policy Institute food economist Lester Brown in the article, “We have a situation in the world food economy today where the growth in demand is exceeding the supply.”
It makes for a case of some of DeLauro and Warren’s concerns possibly moving closer to becoming reality.
In the June 26, 2013, letter actually addressed to U.S. Trade Ambassador Michael Froman, former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., former Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the two stated “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. 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 fall, the still-simmering issue turned to the question of how now Chinese-owned Smithfield is reaping the benefits of a U.S. Department of Agriculture program meant to aid domestic farmers negatively impacted by all China’s trade tariffs.
“I don’t understand why Chinese owned Smithfield qualifies for USDA $$ meant to help our farmers,” U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) posted on Twitter.
Just weeks prior, Trump moved to enact tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods in keeping with his promise of cutting the U.S. trade deficit with China.