5/30/2013 8:59 PM ET|
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.
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.
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