A bipartisan group of senators including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Sen. Thad Cochran, ranking member of the committee, raised questions Wednesday regarding government oversight of the proposed purchase of Smithfield Foods and future foreign acquisitions of American agriculture companies.
The senators urged Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to include both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in the review of the proposed purchase of Smithfield foods so that the oversight process includes experts on the American food supply and food safety.
The proposed acquisition by Shuanghui International, a Chinese food company, will undergo a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), and the treasury secretary has the authority to add the agencies to the review process.
The senators said that the foreign purchase of such a significant American agricultural company – the largest acquisition of any American company by a Chinese company in history – raises a number of broader questions about how such transactions are reviewed and whether the appropriate authorities are evaluating risks and ensuring American interests are protected.
The senators questioned whether reviews of these sales are adequately reviewed to take into account American national security interests, uphold food safety standards, whether overall trends in foreign ownership of the American food supply are examined, and whether appropriate measures are in place to safeguard American intellectual property.
In their letter, the senators wrote: “We believe that our food supply is critical infrastructure that should be included in any reasonable person’s definition of national security. As such, we strongly encourage you to include the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in any CFIUS review of this transaction, and consider designating the Department of Agriculture as one of its lead agencies. Further, any CFIUS review of this transaction should look beyond any direct impact on government agencies and operations to the broader issues of food security, food safety, and biosecurity.
“Considering the potential for other foreign acquisitions of American food and agriculture companies, we also have a number of broader questions about how these transactions are reviewed and whether the appropriate authorities are evaluating potential risks and proposing sufficient mitigation measures to protect American interests.
“The United States has the safest, most efficient and reliable food supply in the world. It is one of our nation’s great strengths, and we must ensure that it is preserved and protected. The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will further examine how this transaction is reviewed and how these transactions should be reviewed in the future.”
The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of 15 senators of the Agriculture Committee including Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), Sen. William Cowan (D-MA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO), Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Mike Donnelly (D-IL) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).