In Smithfield, Va., on Wednesday, locals were shocked to discover that their town’s namesake, Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936 as a single meatpacking plant and now the largest pork producer in the world, is poised to be sold to Chinese meat company Shuanghui International. If approved by federal regulators, the $4.7 billion deal would be the biggest takeover in history of an American company by a Chinese one.
The announcement of the deal immediately provoked skepticism far beyond the town of Smithfield, with a wide range of camps voicing concern about everything from food safety to foreign financial control to increasing corporate consolidation of the food industry. Shuanghui is the biggest meat company in China, and Smithfield already owns more hogs than the next eight largest hog producers combined, according to Food & Water Watch. It’s not necessarily a complete foreign takeover if you consider that Shuanghui is partially owned by Goldman Sachs, but if you’re worried about corporate control of the food system, that’s not exactly cause for comfort.
Why is China interested in owning an American pork behemoth? The New York Times reports:
Smithfield and Shuanghui said that the deal was meant to … increase exports of American products to China, already the nation’s third-largest export market for pork. Meat consumption in China has exploded over the past decade because of a growing middle class and a shift in diet from rice and vegetables to more protein.