Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow is raising a host of new questions about a Chinese bid to buy the largest pork producer in the world.
"This is the largest sale of a company in the United States to a Chinese state-owned enterprise," the Michigan Democrat said in an interview Friday about the proposed sale of Smithfield Foods to Shuanghui International. She said she has a number of concerns about the deal at this point, but declined to oppose it outright.
Speaking at length about the proposed purchase for the first time, Stabenow raised the possibility that the Chinese entity might cause problems for the U.S.-Japanese pork trade.
"Pork producers are dependent upon exports, and so I totally understand that. My concern is our biggest export market in the U.S. is Japan, right next door to China. So, what happens when you have a Chinese company now owning [Smithfield]," Stabenow said during an interview that will air Sunday on C-SPAN's "Newmakers."
"Do we know that they will always be exporting from America, or are they going to be exporting from China and our pork producers lose their largest market, which is Japan?" she asked.
Stabenow said she plans to push for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the Treasury-led group that reviews purchases of U.S. companies by foreign entities, to include representation from the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, given that the acquisition might affect food security.
"From a food safety standpoint, Shuanghui has a very spotty track record. They've given banned chemicals to their hogs," Stabenow said. "There have been stories about hogs that were dumped in the river in China that were diseased, and this came from the same company."
The Michigan Democrat isn't alone in expressing concerns. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has also called for a thorough CFIUS review, along with possible action by the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, given industry consolidation.
Regardless of the outcome, it looks like the CFIUS process is poised to return to the headlines for the first time since 2006, when Dubai Ports World sought to purchase the operator of several major U.S. ports.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has also expressed qualms about Shuanghui and food safety.
While Stabenow wouldn't rule out supporting the deal eventually, one comment during the interview should give particular pause to those looking for her support.
"Frankly, I would encourage someone else — an American company — to bid so there were options," Stabenow said.