Lawmakers in the Senate and House are introducing legislation Tuesday to bring greater scrutiny to foreign acquisition of U.S. agricultural businesses in a new effort to keep agricultural supply chains free of overseas control.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., and Reps. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, and Filemon Vela, D-Texas, are the lawmakers driving the legislative push to compel the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to consider new criteria specific to the agriculture industry when it weighs whether foreign investment represents a threat to national security.
“The pandemic has underscored the critical contributions of our farmers, ranchers, and agriculture community to ensure our country remains food secure even in the face of unprecedented times,” Tuberville said in a statement to Agri-Pulse. “Food security is national security, which is why the agriculture industry needs a seat at the table for the foreign investment vetting process.”
CFIUS is an interagency committee chaired by the Treasury Secretary with the responsibility of reviewing foreign investments into U.S. companies and real estate in order to determine if there is a threat to national security. The committee can block investments or demand changes to deals.
Tuberville’s Foreign Adversary Risk Management bill, with the apt acronym FARM, designates ag supply chains as “critical infrastructure” and directs CFIUS to review “any transaction, merger, acquisition, transfer, agreement, takeover, or other arrangement that could result in foreign control of any United States business that is engaged in agriculture and uses agricultural products.”
“Foreign interference in America’s agriculture supply chain poses a serious national security threat, especially given that the worst proponent is the Chinese Communist Party,” Jackson said. “Our adversaries are working overtime to undermine American interests, and the FARM Act will be an important step to secure America’s food supply by identifying and responding to inappropriate interference.”
The bill would also give the Secretary of Agriculture a CFIUS role and require the USDA chief and the U.S. Comptroller General to perform a report on “foreign influence in the United States agriculture industry.”
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The report, which would have to be sent to Capitol Hill, would include a summary of all foreign investments in the U.S. ag sector as well as an analysis of “the largest international threats for increased foreign control of, and investment in, the United States agriculture sector.”
“Agriculture is the lifeblood that helps to feed United States families nationwide,” the bill reads. “As such, food security is a matter of national security and should be a top priority of the United States.”
Tuberville isn’t the first senator to push for legislation that would give the USDA representation on CFIUS. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the Food Security is National Security Act in March of 2017. The bill, which also sought to add agriculture and food criteria to the threats considered by CFIUS, was referred to Senate Banking Committee, but that’s as far as it went.
“As we think about the future and the growing global population, it’s important to consider who will control the food supply,” Grassley said about the bill in 2017. "We owe it to our farmers and Americans who rely on farmers to grow their food to be more strategic. Especially as countries around the world are making moves to ensure adequate supplies.”
In the House, former Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has introduced similar legislation, the Agriculture Security Risk Review Act, which would add the Ag Secretary to the CFIUS. Lucas introduced the bill in May after previously gaining bipartisan support for the legislation in 2020.
Story updated at 5 p.m. to include information about the Agriculture Security Risk Review Act.
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