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June 3rd, 2013

Why the Fuss Over China?

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

By Wenonah Hauter

Last week, some people questioned our opposition to China’s largest meat company purchasing Smithfield, suggesting that it could be construed as xenophobia. But prejudice against a particular country has nothing to do with our concern. The globalized food system poses real food safety risks and free trade deals with global partners encourage a race-to-the bottom in food safety standards, leaving U.S. consumers at the mercy of inadequate foreign food safety systems like China’s.

We should all be leery of deals like this that further consolidate our food system; especially when they involve companies with a history of food safety problems and countries with abysmal track records for food and worker safety. The horrendous Chinese poultry plant fire currently making headlines provides another powerful example of how the factory farm model endangers lives.  

As I explain in this 2011 blog when we released our report, A Decade of Dangerous Food Imports from China, putting profits above people is a cross-cultural problem. Besides, many of the companies and investors profiting from Chinese exports are U.S. companies or investors (Goldman Sachs own part of Shuanghui International).

Anyone who’s paying attention knows that risky food from China has become all too common. Last month, Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats to discuss China as the leading producer of many foods Americans eat: apples, tomatoes, peaches, potatoes, garlic, seafood, processed food and food ingredients like xylitol and vitamin C.

As I explain on New York Times’ Room For Debate last night, the purchase of Smithfield isn’t just about exporting pork – it’s indicative of the American government’s fervor for exporting our consolidated, industrialized food system:

Shuanghui International became China’s monolithic meat company by adopting the U.S. factory farm model pioneered by companies like Smithfield. The merger is likely to increase the size, intensity and pollution of hog production in China. Furthermore, Smithfield’s anticipated increased exports to China would effectively convert U.S. factory farms into export platforms; Smithfield would ship out the pork, and we’d keep the hog manure.

In addition to the environmental consequences of the deal, it’s bad for consumers. Transnational deals in the food industry usually add to American imports, and a rising flood of imported food swamps U.S. import inspectors. In the long term, Shuanghui may offshore hog operations to China, and the U.S. could be importing pork. In 2011, Shuanghui recalled thousands of tons of meat after reports that it was laced with the banned veterinary drug clenbuterol, which is linked to serious human health risks.

Deals like this serve no one but the executives and bankers who stand to profit; everyone else is left with the manure.

(Read my full comment and the other experts’ perspectives here: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/06/02/smithfield-china-and-the-calculus-of-transnational-deals/food-industry-deals-hurt-consumers-and-the-environment)

Another debater, Thea Lee is the deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO, brought up another excellent point:

If Chinese consumers want to consume American pork, they can presumably purchase it on the open market. Our farmers have been trying to get their pork into the Chinese market on a sustained basis for many years. The decision instead to purchase a major producer indicates that there are other motives. As we evaluate this and other similar investments, we had better have a good sense of how those other motives will impact good jobs, food safety and regulatory balance in this country. Unfortunately, under current law, even if we determine that this or similar investments would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy – or any subset of workers – there is very little we can do to stop it.

 We’re not criticizing the deal simply because Shuanghui is a foreign company. Food & Water Watch has criticized Australia’s and Canada’s food safety issues plenty. And if other country exporting food to the U.S. had the same food safety problems that China has, we would be equally concerned. The bottom line is further consolidation of our food system is bad for consumers and farmers. When a handful of companies—whether it’s Shuanghui or Tyson—control the food we eat, Wall Street and high-paid food industry executives win. Consumers, farmers and the environment all lose.

7 Comments on Why the Fuss Over China?

  1. John Simms says:

    You’re 100% right. It should be illegal for a foreign country to own an American company. It’s the only way to prevent something like this. Anyway I won’t be eating any pork that has any ties to China. I’ll avoid it like the plague.

    • Paula E B O says:

      I agree the minute I heard the news on NPR I vowed not to eat pork again if China owns Smithfield. As it is now I don’t even purchase anything that is made in China ever. Excellent Blog.

  2. Christie Conlon says:

    Keep getting the word out. Personally, I do not eat pork, and very little meat. I have a large sustainable organic garden, one hen that produces an egg every other day, and a bee hive, enough for one person to consume good food. I enjoy eating wild caught salmon and I am very concerned about salmon becoming GE. It is very important to keep getting the word out because millions of people in this country do rely on another’s food processing/growing and do not have the option of growing or raising their own food.

  3. Susan Campoccio says:

    I eat nothing that has been produced in China..and now I will not eat food produced here that is owned by a Chinese company…America for sale; to these large corporations the world is their sandbox, while the we the people clean out the s–t ( once discovered) Free Trade…. biggest mistake ever..U.S A…… just a big Monopoly game……
    heads up people… grow your own food and starve the Beast…

  4. This is a great article on the reality of our food system and the changes that place it in danger. The scary part is that China is now also signing contracts to acquire or control other countries that produce pig meat, such as Costa Rica.

    Keep up this great work! Thank you for shedding light on important topics that most other media sources and organizations don’t even think of.

  5. Lisa S says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue! I had already send messages to me Senators and Representative when I found your campaign against Shuanghui’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods. In addition to the issue you have raised, I also added the issue of Smithfield’s land holdings in proximity to military installations key to our national defense. Smithfield itself is within an hour’s easy drive from the Norfolk/Hampton Roads military mega complex including Norfolk Naval Base (the world’s largest naval base), Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, Langley AFB, and Newport News Shipbuilding. Smithfield’s largest facility, in Tar Heel, NC is quite close to both Fort Bragg and Pope AFB, while another of Smithfield’s subsidiaries is HQ’d in Wichita KS which is still an aeronautics nexus.

  6. Glenn Parker says:

    I agree!

    Our regulators already do a poor job inspecting US grown food products. China has a poor food safety record. They should not be allowed to export poultry and other meat products to the USA or to own a US company.

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