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Wake Up Bacon Fans: Get Used to the Idea of Chinese Companies Buying American Pork Producers

Daily Ticker

Should a Chinese company be allowed to buy a U.S.-based pork producer, which happens to be the largest in the world?

That’s the question that the little-known Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) will consider when it reviews China’s Shuanghui International Holdings’ $4.7 billion for Virginia-based Smithfield Foods (SFD). And Congress potentially could weigh in too.

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CFIUS previously rejected Chinese oil and gas giant CNOOC’s bid for U.S.-based Unocal n 2005 and Huawei Technologies’ purchase of assets from California-based 3Leaf Systems, but it has approved other Chinese acquisitions of U.S. companies, including the purchase of battery technology firm A123 and General Electric's (GE) aviation technology division.

So far there hasn’t been much of an outcry about the Shuanghui-Smithfield Foods deal, which would be the biggest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company ever. “I think people are actually getting more comfortable with the idea, given that there hasn’t been an explosion of criticism about it,” says The Daily Ticker’s Henry Blodget. That was not the case with the CNOOC (CEO) bid for Unocal, which was subsequently bought by Chevron (CVX).

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But should Americans be so sanguine?

“I do think Congress will look at this deal because our food supply is so critical,” says The Daily Ticker’s Aaron Task. Two years ago, Chinese health inspectors found that a unit of Shuanghui International had used a banned food additive in pork products that speeds muscle growth in pigs but can cause irregular heartbeats, headaches and nausea in humans. The company subsequently said it ended the partnership with the producers of the banned substance.

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Blodget says, “People better get used to Chinese companies buying more American companies.” They are the two biggest economies in the world but China’s economy is growing at a much faster rate. So is their appetite for pork as more Chinese consumers—with more money—move from diets based on grains to diets that favor meat products.

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