Food safety advocates wary of Smithfield purchase by Chinese company

May 31, 2013

On Wednesday, Shuanghui International, a Chinese food conglomerate, announced its purchase of Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the U.S. The proposed deal is estimated to be worth $4.7 billion and marks the largest Chinese takeover of an American company ever.

The Huffington Post reports that the news has many food safety advocates on edge. Shuanghui admitted two years ago that it had blended a banned, carcinogenic additive into its feed. The company apologized and shut down the plant at the center of the controversy.

However, the Center for Food Safety expressed concerns about the company's standards.

"The practices of this company in terms of what it allows and what its priorities are, it's certainly going to affect the U.S. operation," said Elisabeth Holmes, a staff attorney at the CFS.

Both Shuanghui and Smithfield execs have announced that there will be no changes in operations at the producer's existing U.S. plants.

"There will be no impact on how we do business operationally in America as a result of this transaction," C. Larry Pope, Smithfield CEO, said in a conference call.

Smithfield executives said the deal is simply an opportunity to meet the growing demand for meat in China; not to import Chinese pork into the U.S.

Food and Commercial Workers respond

Joseph T. Hansen, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union president, issued a statement in response to Smithfield Foods purchase by Shuanghui International:

"As the representative of more than 16,000 Smithfield Foods workers in 14 states, the UFCW is pleased that current Smithfield management will stay in place and that all collective bargaining agreements will continue to provide strong wage and benefits for Smithfield workers following the sale.

The UFCW has a strong labor-management relationship with Smithfield. Our union has productive relationships with other foreign-owned companies in the food industry including Marfig, Nestle, JBS, Unilever and others. We intend to work with Smithfield's new owners to build on that same spirit of open dialogue and cooperation.

We will watch the required regulatory process that oversees this proposed sale very carefully to make sure the interests of workers in the pork industry are protected and supported.

The Chinese market for fresh pork is a rapidly exploding market and this purchase reflects that country's economic need for high quality, U.S.-made pork. The UFCW is pleased that workers in our communities can benefit from the growth and expansion of the U.S. pork industry."

As the country's largest pork producer, Smithfield has a ubiquitous presence in the restaurant industry as a supplier for chains ranging in size from McDonald's to Krystal.

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