FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the Fuss Over China?

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.)

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.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on food, water, energy and environmental issues at the national, state and local level. Her book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America examines the corporate consolidation and control over our food system and what it means for farmers and consumers.

More articles by:
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman - TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail