How much of our food will come from China?

If Smithfield's proposed sale goes through, the Chinese will control a hefty portion of the US supply. That's making some consumers here uncomfortable.

By Jason Notte May 30, 2013 4:59PM
Image: China (© Brand X/SuperStock)So Smithfield Foods (SFD), the world's largest pork processor and hog farmer, has agreed to be acquired by China's Shuanghui Group for $7.1 billion. Is that really any reason to freak out?

In short, yes.

Forget for a moment that, if it clears scrutiny by the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment, the deal would become the largest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company. As The New York Times points out, Americans are increasingly eating food imported from China. The Agriculture Department indicates that by the end of last year, the United States had imported 4.1 billion pounds of food products from China. That includes half of U.S. apple juice consumption, 80% of its tilapia and more than 10% of its frozen spinach.

Recently, China's been plagued with problems ranging from melamine deliberately put into pet foods and baby formula to unsafe levels of cadmium in rice. More recently, fox, rat and mink meat there was doctored with gelatin, pigment and nitrates and sold as mutton.

Though Smithfield says the deal was intended to deliver more pork to China, not the reverse, the fact that China is barred from exporting fresh pork or beef to the United States because it still has outbreaks of hoof and mouth disease is troubling for American consumers and lawmakers alike. A congressional hearing this month entitled "The Threat of China’s Unsafe Consumables" underscores just how nervous Chinese food products tend to make folks on this side of the Pacific.

The key problem is that, while imported foods sold here are supposed to be labeled with their country of origin, a whole lot of imports end up in restaurant and other ready-made meals where the sourcing is still in question. Once those imports are processed in any way -- whether by mixing vegetable or mashing fish into sticks and patties -- the government no longer requires labels of origin.

Also, while Americans may have a short memory when it comes to food scandals abroad, they tend to remember little memes like the videos of thousands of pig carcasses floating down a river that supplies drinking water to Shanghai. It also doesn't help that Shuanghui itself was caught selling pork laced with clenbuterol, a veterinary medicine banned for use in animals intended for human consumption, in 2011.

While food experts claim the Smithfield buy is part of a continued effort to clean the food supply in China, which already buys 12% of all U.S. pork, there are also concerns that new owners could cut into the U.S. share of Smithfield meat should supplies get tight.

More on moneyNOW

May 30, 2013 5:27PM
The idea that Smithfield is even thinking of this is so disappointing.  If this happens I for one will never buy another Smithfield item.  I try very hard to purchase nothing that comes from China - which is becoming increasingly difficult.  The fact that they own companies providing our food is quite scary to me.
Boy have we turned into a stupid country
May 30, 2013 8:43PM
As far as I know the US can't purchase any Chinese companies so how in the hell is our government allowing China to purchase an american company?  For sure, America is going to hell fast.
May 30, 2013 6:20PM

Let's short sale Smithfield. (or Short sale any company own by china. Please support U.S. buy local please.

May 30, 2013 7:09PM
No one in their right mind would eat anything from China, they have no qualms when it comes to poisoning their own people.
May 30, 2013 7:17PM
My late father always feared we (the US) would be owned by China someday. How frightening.
May 30, 2013 8:25PM
If you're looking for patriotism, don't look to the big corporations.
You won't find it there.
May 30, 2013 10:29PM
If China buys Smithfield hams I for one will not be eating ham or ham products. We are slowly letting countries that do not have our best interest at heart take over.  It's like giving a thief a key to your house.  We all better stick to locally grown meats and vegetables if you want to live. It's clear that our country does not care. The corporations are only looking at the money.
May 30, 2013 10:00PM
May 30, 2013 9:14PM
I guess we should be writing our elected reps and tell them to block the deal. China should NOT be allowed to continue buying so much of our country and its services/businesses.
May 30, 2013 9:54PM
well some where down the line some congressman or political involvement is going to get a fat piece of this so they sell it as agreat idea for the good of the world economyB.S.  borrow money from china to pay our bills sell them our companies sell all the world our corn to the point we cant afford it anymore offer anybody refuge because no one has the backbone to say enough already....  take care of our own first !! this country is headed for another civil war .  clean house,  vote every current politician out and start over and if you cant make a difference in one term .......NEXT!!!
May 30, 2013 9:50PM

Greed is a hard thing, for good hard working Americans, to fathom.  The owners of Smithfield are unable to justify, other than money, the sale of a food supply conglomerate.  It's un-American things like this that should have everyone asking more questions.  Our own farmers have had to kiss up to these large human food suppliers in order to survive.  While we're at it take a hard look at all imports from every country. 


May 30, 2013 10:39PM

We used to get tilapia once a week, and once we started reading labels and could see that it was a "product of China" we quit buying tilapia.  We used to order dishes in some restaurants that served tilapia, but again, once we realized where it was from, we quit ordering those meals.  Many other products are like this, including a lot of other types of fish.


We need to be reading and researching where all of our foods come from.

May 31, 2013 12:45AM
What a shame. Another one of Smithfields moves that is ridiculous. I am an X smithfield supervisor that saw with my own eyes what they thought of their employees and the american people. All they are interested in is making a dollar no matter whom it hurts or what it may cost someone else. They tried to control all aspects of the market and run the little man out of business only to sell to another country. Real smart I would say!! Don't buy anything from Smithfield they have no regard for you or us as americans.
May 30, 2013 8:45PM
China is not banned from exporting fish to the US because I see alot of frozen fish for sale in Walmart.
May 30, 2013 8:38PM
If we let them, they will sodomize us...and many would not even see a problem with that.
May 30, 2013 7:13PM
Those floating down the river would have been turned into ham if China owned Smithfield back then.  Who eats ham?  American and Westerners do.  Mm. Yum.....yum, yum.
May 30, 2013 7:47PM
Everyone is reading into this wrong. Our GIANT issue is GIANT business platforms. Time to divest all of them. Smithfield is a major polluter. Spread the pasture to process to product out and mandate that no one business can cross state lines. How is it that every state has significant unemployment but it's okay to grow a platform so big that China wants to buy it?
May 30, 2013 9:52PM
Food? Why has China been building these empty cities?
May 30, 2013 10:45PM
Sorry, the Chinese have shown to be crooks,  copiers and now stealing our resouces and getting into our military secrets.  It's because they can't do anything on their own, they copy, imitate well, but think on their own they can't do.   So, food from there will be drizzled with poisons, lack of accountability and no apologies.  I will not eat anymore pork. 
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