In fact, China’s State Council in 2011 said that it planned to put $385 million a year toward construction of large-scale hog farms for five years, moving toward consolidation. Already, China is shutting down backyard pig farms in favor of such operations, said Daniel Slane, commissioner of the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission, in testimony to the Senate committee.
Critics of the environmental and health implications of the merger say the deal will also create operations that would be far less transparent for communities around the farms. Right now, Smithfield is a publicly traded company so it puts out annual reports that give insight into its practices as required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “After the acquisition, Smithfield will cease to be publicly traded, and information on operations will come through Chinese reports,” Haley says. Although SEC filings would no longer be required, communities could still learn something about its waste management and production practices because the company would need to provide information for various kinds of environmental permits, says Tarah Heinzen, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. Smithfield declined to comment for this article.
Food safety issues, alongside concerns about U.S. competitiveness, prompted Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) at the hearing to press Smithfield’s CEO, asking if pork products from China—even repackaged meat from the U.S. that would be reimported back to the country—could eventually end up on American dinner plates. In the past China has had to cope with rampant food safety violations, and Shuanghui has committed infractions, including one incident in which customers reportedly became ill after eating maggot-infested sausages. “Chinese product cannot be imported into the United States today,” and the two companies are not trying to change that, Pope says. “There is no discussion about that.”
The proposed Smithfield merger is being reviewed by the U.S. inter-agency body called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. For now, hog farming communities are holding their collective breath.