On May 29, Shuanghui International proposed acquiring Smithfield Farms for $4.7 billion, making it the biggest Chinese takeover of an American company to date. However, with Smithfield being the largest pork producer in the country, some speculate that consumers might be upset about their meat going international. While Teri Gault of The Grocery Game says they are prepared to see public boycotting or an increase in veganism, Wenoah Hauter of Food & Water Watch issued a statement saying “U.S. consumers will likely not take notice to the change.” Similar questions were asked in 2007 when JBS of Brazil acquired Chicago’s Swift & Company, but consumers didn’t seem to care then so they probably won’t care now.
While consumer grocery shopping will be unaffected by this merger, they will definitely notice a change on their plates. Hauter says that this acquisition will create more factory farms, farmer exploitation, and possible food contamination now that they have moved away from farm produce and towards factory meat. Additionally, now that Smithfield Farms will be under Chinese control, the pork will be both imported and exported if demand gets higher and environmental waste will only increase. Therefore, the meat will now be processed through vertical integration, where one company dominates production and distribution of meat to create efficiency and reduce costs, but it makes the meat subject to many chemicals. Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch told Modern Farmer “If you’re ramping up for sending products to China, the cost, like more odors and waste, stay here while the product goes elsewhere.”
Shuanghui has fallen victim to food safety issues in the past. Two years ago, Shuanghui was selling pork meat that had high levels of clenbuterol, an illegal additive that leads to serious health risks. With the company’s history of problems, it raises even more concerns about producing meat abroad. While Smithfield and Shuanghui said that the deal was meant to increase exports of American meats to China, it seems that through this, “overseas ownership can only complicate and [create] potential future food safety problems from U.S. oversight,” Hauter concludes.