Agriculture senators want tough oversight of Smithfield sale

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 20, 2013 - Fifteen of the 20 members of the Senate Agriculture Committee urged the Obama Administration today to scrutinize the proposed sale of Smithfield Foods to China's Shuanghui International for its potential impact food security, food safety and biosecurity and safeguarding intellectual property.

Their letter urged Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to expand the national security review by including representatives of USDA and FDA with the Committee on Foreign Investment of the United States (CFIUS), with USDA one of the lead agencies, “so that the oversight process includes experts on the American food supply and food safety.” Smithfield has said that it would submit the transaction to CFIUS review voluntarily. Lew has authority to add the agencies to the review process, said Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Lets Talk Food

The senators said that the foreign purchase of a significant American agricultural company - the largest acquisition of any U.S. company by a Chinese entity in history, they added - raises broader questions about how such transactions are reviewed and whether “appropriate authorities are evaluating risks and ensuring American interests are protected.”

“We believe that our food supply is critical infrastructure that should be included in any reasonable person's definition of national security,” the letter said. 

The letter was signed by Stabenow; Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; and Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; William Cowan, D-Mass.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Tom Harkin, D-Iowa; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Michael Bennett, D-Colo.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The text of the letter:

June 20, 2013

The Honorable Jacob J. Lew

Secretary

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20220

Dear Secretary Lew:

We are writing with regard to the proposed purchase of Smithfield Foods, the world's largest producer and processor of pork, by the Shuanghui Group. Although the Committee has not reached any conclusions with respect to this particular acquisition, it has raised a number of questions about how the foreign purchase of a major agriculture or food company is reviewed by the United States Government.

It has been publicly reported that the parties to this transaction are submitting it to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for review. The President has delegated to you the authority to add “the heads of any other executive department, agency, or office” that you deem appropriate to CFIUS on a case by case basis, and to designate a “lead agency or agencies” to “have primary responsibility” for that review.

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. For instance, what measures should be considered to ensure that a company will maintain operations that comply with stringent American food safety and biosecurity standards? What measures should be considered to ensure that taxpayer supported research and development and any resulting intellectual property are properly safeguarded? Should trends in foreign acquisitions also be monitored to ensure the ongoing integrity of key components of the American food supply?

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. We look forward to your cooperation in that important effort.

#30

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