Former Sen. Hatch tried to discourage Chinese pork deal in 2013 letter


With the world's leading pork producer reeling from more than half a billion dollars in damages through federal nuisance lawsuits in North Carolina, a 2013 letter from now retired U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch seems prophetic.  

The purchase of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghu Group of China, now called WH Group, would inevitably endanger our nation's pork industry, Hatch warned in his June 2013 letter to U.S. trade and treasury officials.

"The purchase of Smithfield – the largest pork producer in the world – is also difficult to square with China's restrictive policies that effectively ban U.S. pork," Hatch wrote in his letter, co-signed by then U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus.

Hatch, who represented Utah for 42 years and was the longest-serving Republican U.S. Senator until his retirement in 2019, was ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee when he co-signed the letter with Baucus. Hatch later chaired the committee.

Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch

Baucus, first elected to the U.S. Senate to represent Montana in 1978, served in that seat for 36 years and was appointed by President Barack Obama as ambassador to China. Baucus held that post until January 2017, when he and all other foreign ambassadors were fired by then newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.

WH Group purchased 'this quintessential slice of Americana' in 2013, prompting almost immediate alarm from U.S. lawmakers that has continued until this day.

More than five years later, about 9 million hogs live in North Carolina, making the state the second-largest pork producer in the U.S. behind Iowa. In Sampson and Duplin counties, hogs outnumber people by about 30 to one, according to an industry website.

The lion's share of pork production in North Carolina, about 90 percent, is processed through Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia and owned by WH Group, which itself is owned by Chinese billionaire Wan Long.

Smithfield now finds itself defending a string of federal nuisance lawsuits by property owners near its pork production facilities in North Carolina. Last spring, a federal court jury in the eastern part of the state handed down a $50 million nuisance verdict in favor of property owners adjacent to a pig factory operation in Bladen County.

That case was one of a series of cases the pork producer has lost, with damages so far reaching more than $550 million, well more than the state's $97.2 million punitive charges cap.

In March, Smithfield filed suit against its insurers in an effort to cover the losses. In February, WH Group announced an expected drop in revenue and profits because of trade tensions spawned by the Trump administration's tariffs.

Hatch's letter in 2013 warned that a Smithfield purchase by WH Group likely would lead to trade and other issues.

"China's policies are unscientific, inconsistent, and are directly harming the United States agriculture community," Hatch and Baucus wrote in the letter. "The interests of our farmers and ranchers must be protected."

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