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China's Bid for Smithfield

Congress is debating a Chinese business tycoon’s proposed purchase of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer—and with good reason.

Why allow a Chinese businessman to take over a venerable American food company, when for as long as anyone can remember China has been plagued by food scandals—from toxic baby formula to fake or tainted meat. Just this spring, Xinhua, the Chinese-government news service, quoted an unnamed government food safety official who was calling for still another crackdown on “deep-seated food safety problems.”

What prompted this, the latest scandal, was the discovery that suppliers had used hydrogen peroxide to process chicken parts and pumped the chickens full of water to increase their weight for sale.

At about the same time, in May, Chinese authorities said they arrested a crime ring that had sold at least $1 million worth of lamb that turned out actually to be rat meat. And don’t forget that in March thousands of disease-ridden dead pigs were found floating in the river that supplies water for the city of Shanghai.

“Since January,” China Daily reported, “police have dealt with 382 major cases involving the production and processing of water-injected meat, fake beef and lamb, rotten meat, and toxic meat products,” the Ministry of Public Security said.

These are just the most recent in a litany of problems with toxic and faked food, including the “leather milk” scandal. A few years ago, Chinese dairies, trying to make more money, diluted their milk with water. But then, they knew, the watery milk would not pass protein-content tests. So the dairies bought leather-waste byproducts from tanneries—high in protein but also carcinogenic—and dumped that into the milk.

All of this is and so much more is known to anyone who closely follows China. But C. Larry Pole, chief executive of Smithfield Farms, obviously enticed by the $4.7 billion that Chinese businessman Wan Long is offering to pay him, assured the Senate at a hearing last Wednesday that the sale “would have no impact on the US food supply and, therefore, no impact on food security.” But Pope cannot be assured of that, several senators told him.

They noted that once Wan, who sits on the National People’s Congress, owns the company, he could easily choose to relocate it to China. That, several senators warned, could eventually result in China exporting tainted or even toxic pork back to the United States.

This, they added, could affect national security. Wan Long is a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party, and the Bank of China, a quasi-government agency, is to finance the purchase. That caused Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, to ask Pope: “Did you realize you were the victim of a Chinese Communist plot?

Congress has no direct authority to block the sale. But another government agency, the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, is reviewing the proposal. And given the history and reality of today, it had better block the sale—for the good of the American people.

 

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