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All Your Bacon Are Belong To Us
September 8, 2013 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Politico: "The U.S. government on Friday approved Shuanghui International Holding’s bid to buy iconic U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods in what would be the biggest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company to date."

“This transaction will create a leading global animal protein enterprise,” Zhijun Yang, Shuanghui’s chief executive, said in the statement.

Dealbook (New York Times): "Both companies have argued that their combination poses no danger of compromising American food safety standards. Indeed, they have contended that the goal is to export more Smithfield pork to China, satisfying rising demand for high-quality meat in that country."

USA Today: "Interviews with workers at meat plants in both countries illustrate the dollars-and-cents contrasts between the same jobs in the USA and China. Keenly aware of those differences, American workers worry what the future will bring."

Wikipedia: Smithfield Foods and Shuanghui Group.

Previously on MetaFilter.
posted by Wordshore (47 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really thought the US government was there to save our bacon, too. So much for that. Can't trust anyone anymore, I guess.
posted by nevercalm at 3:54 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


global animal protein enterprise

I'm reading this phrase over and over and it still doesn't sound right...
posted by PenDevil at 3:59 PM on September 8, 2013 [31 favorites]


Our regulators suck big-time. Why are "anti-trust" and "race to the bottom" such hard concepts to grasp?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:00 PM on September 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


There's something super creepy about Yang's avoidance of the word "meat".
posted by clockzero at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2013 [6 favorites]


Our regulators suck big-time. Why are "anti-trust" and "race to the bottom" such hard concepts to grasp?

They grasp them fine. They just don't care, because the bottom line in the short-term is all that matters. It is very much possible to spell "capitalism" without "patriotism."
posted by nevercalm at 4:02 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


This cannot be good news for pigs.
posted by bird internet at 4:07 PM on September 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


They grasp them fine. They just don't care, because the bottom line in the short-term is all that matters. It is very much possible to spell "capitalism" without "patriotism."

Yeah, I get that. But the regulators are charged with the PUBLIC interest. I'd consider many (if not most) of the mega-mergers of the last two decades dereliction of duty on the regulators' parts. This is essentially selling out American workers and consumers so a private company can sell more fucking pigs in China. Talk about picking winners and losers, as the conservatives are supposedly so adamantly against.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:09 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


One thing US mefites don't do well is the relative economic rise of China and decline of the US. US companies have been buying offshore assets for 100 years and US shareholders benefit from vast wealth inflows from profitable overseas enterprises. The US is also notorious for imposing its lower standards on other countries whenever negotiating trade agreements. Sauce for the gander.
posted by wilful at 4:11 PM on September 8, 2013 [19 favorites]


I was unaware that Smithfield was considered "high-quality meat".
posted by petrilli at 4:11 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I look forward to the new packaging - "now with 30% more cardboard".
posted by arcticseal at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


China's strategic pork reserve and its global impact
posted by Bwithh at 4:15 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does it make economic sense to farm pigs in the US for consumption in China?
posted by acb at 4:17 PM on September 8, 2013


There's something super creepy about Yang's avoidance of the word "meat".

Global Meat Enterprise was the heavily copyrighted name of my band's second album. I assume Mr. Yang is a fan and is paying due respect.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:20 PM on September 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


> Our regulators suck big-time. Why are "anti-trust" and "race to the bottom" such hard concepts to grasp?

I've been told that the U.S. meat industry is not seen as significantly better than the Chinese meat industry in the eyes of the world. China has frequent food contamination scares, while the U.S.'s meat producers chronically overuse hormones and antibiotics, and the quality of the meat itself is considered poor, thanks in part to the legal fraud of injecting cuts with water.

So I wouldn't be surprised if much of the world has a different opinion than Americans do on the consequences of this sale.
posted by ardgedee at 4:45 PM on September 8, 2013 [11 favorites]


The meat industry is a boil on our collective ass. I don't really care whether the manager of the plant dumping waste all up in my water and soil is American or Chinese.
posted by threeants at 4:46 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've waited years for Buckaroo Banzai Against The Global Meat Enterprise.
posted by octobersurprise at 4:50 PM on September 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


PenDevil: "global animal protein enterprise

I'm reading this phrase over and over and it still doesn't sound right...
"

That's because there is nothing right about it.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:59 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're coming for our pork! And our women! And to pork our women!
posted by XMLicious at 5:06 PM on September 8, 2013


I'm looking forward to trying some of that "pork" made from Olympic swimmers! (See the informative video on their homepage for details.)
posted by orme at 5:11 PM on September 8, 2013


They're coming for our pork!

To meet the rising Moo Shu demand, presumably.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pigs are literally embedded in the word for home in written Chinese (I just learned). Pigs are the best way to convert food waste into delicious celebratory meals: "virtually every rural household in China raised at least one or two pigs each year. Smallholders defined the structure of pig raising in China all the way up until the early 1980s, when industrial forms began to emerge."
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:19 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


All that to say, we can bellyache about multinational agro-business with cause, but I think we don't need to trip into xenophobia. Chinese culture is not some Johnny-come-lately to pork, here to mess up our bacon.

Also, ahem, Americans came up with Spam? ^_^ I love my processed pork products and my one year of playing D&D as a dungeon master I was overly fond of putting Gelatinous Cubes everywhere, but let people who don't live in processed meat countries throw the first stone, or something.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:24 PM on September 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd love to be able to dream that this would be good, something that would elevate the level of safety standards and food handling in China, the rising tide raising all boats and such.

It won't happen, of course. I shudder to think how the standard American factory farm and its pig lagoons will translate into Chinese farming practices. After all, we've already seen what happens in America when, ahem, the shit goes bad. Just for fun, it was Smithfield in the hurricane Floyd flooding (scroll down to the part about emissions). But, dammit, it would be nice to see just one, one giant corporate merger that actually makes things better for the world.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:35 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also previously, from almost two years ago: "IBM is currently putting together database and barcode tracking to allow farmers and grocers in China to track your porkchop, from the pig to the plate."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:36 PM on September 8, 2013


Does it make economic sense to farm pigs in the US for consumption in China?

Apparently so. Last year, according to this Bloomberg piece, the US exported 23% of its pork production to China.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:37 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chinese pig deaths. I would rather they import than export.
posted by jfuller at 5:49 PM on September 8, 2013


Also from Thorzdad's link: "[Chris Hurt, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue...] who has studied livestock markets for four decades, said it was too early to tell what kind of implications the Smithfield deal will have on the U.S. industry. The transaction may provide a “fundamental turning point for globalization of the pork industry,” he said in a video posting on Purdue’s website."

Forbes wrote about the (then-potential) deal back in May: "So we have a vertically integrated U.S. processor that’s ensured that half of its plants can ship pork to China. Its would-be acquirer is the largest player in a messy market that is slowly becoming more receptive to processed meats. Smithfield’s pork will still need to clear quarantine inspection, whoever owns its stock, but Shuanghui can be counted on to smooth its path and, crucially, to access retail channels where chilled meats are sold."

And what about the heparin supply?

I don't know whether it's time to worry or not, but tomorrow I'm going out back to hug my pigs.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:54 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why I buy my bacon from local farmers. Nitrate free, naturally raised, local: there is no guilt in that. Just bacon.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:01 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoa a lotta racism in here.

Do you think that American industrial pig farmers are doing anything besides the bare minimum required to meet environmental and food safety standards? How would a Chinese-owned (but US-based) pig farm be any worse?
posted by modernserf at 6:07 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Whoa a lotta racism in here.

Do you think that American industrial pig farmers are doing anything besides the bare minimum required to meet environmental and food safety standards? How would a Chinese-owned (but US-based) pig farm be any worse?


I can't speak for anyone else here, but I was making an economic argument only. The politics of factory farming are important and discussion worthy, but this deal sucks on an economic level. It will raise Chinese wages (addressed in the articles), raise the price of pork domestically, and almost definitely lower domestic wages. Where's the benefit for the American public? Why the hell do we have regulators who only rubber stamp every stinking mega-merger that comes up?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want to believe that in 100 years eating meat will be as anathema as slavery. It just seems so clearly at odds with humanity's survival.
posted by four panels at 6:21 PM on September 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even here in Korea -- where food safety is, shall we say, less regulated than some other places -- people are extremely leery of Chinese food imports, and meat in particular. For good reason, given the many problems found in recent years. Every single restaurant here, pretty much, posts signs that tell you the country of origin of their ingredients (often blatantly lying, of course), specifically to assure people that they're not using anything from China.

Then again, most people won't eat American beef either, favoring Australian, if they're going for the cheaper option, so.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:22 PM on September 8, 2013


To be clear, the approval that was issued yesterday was from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), whose sole task is to determine whether the acquisition of a U.S. company by a foreign investor raises national security concerns. This one pretty clearly didn't, and CFIUS was right to approve the transaction.

The US is also notorious for imposing its lower standards on other countries whenever negotiating trade agreements.

To the contrary, one of the common complaints against the United States in trade negotiations is that it seeks to impose unrealistically high standards on its FTA partners, especially in the areas of labor (pdf) and environmental (pdf, p.45) standards.
posted by hawkeye at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


[This thread will go better if people don't whip out every Chinese stereotype they can think of. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 6:37 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


modernserf, I'm personally just looking at the current standards of Chinese food production. Things like the fake milk (now with Melamine!)that killed children. The poisoned gyoza that essentially stopped Japanese imports of Chinese food for as long as Japan could afford to not import food from China (hint, it was a very short period of time, as no one can really afford not to import from China).

Things will get worse in the States. That's a given, with or without the Smithfield buyouts. There's too much money in the factory farms, too many people accustomed to the ridiculously low price of meat. The problem is, what will happen in China (with it's long, long history of shoddy environmental standards) when they wholesale adopt the 'farming' method used in America? In the States, at least, there is the vague tsk tsk and slap on the wrist of the FDA and other organizations when a pool of pigshit, tainted with chemicals and antibiotics (so much so, that the shit is pink) washes out into the Atlantic and kills every living thing off the coast of the Carolinas.

My concern is, how big will those lagoons be in China? How carefully regulated will they be? How big will the first disaster be? And the one after that? Show me a carefully regulated industry in China, with solid safety standards, and a clear plan to avoid damage to the environment.

At the end of it, my worry isn't some racist bullshit. It's that, of all the countries in the world, China seems to have decided that the U.S. way of doing things is the best. We're bad enough already. To do what's done in the States, on a far, far larger scale? Nothing good will come of it.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:47 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I want to believe that in 100 years eating meat will be as anathema as slavery. It just seems so clearly at odds with humanity's survival.

It's amazing that we've survived the last quarter-million years, isn't it?
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:28 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


global animal protein enterprise

So I've still got a chance to build the largest global animal carbohydrate enterprise?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:34 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Four hours since posting and nobody has noted that the acronym for global animal protein enterprise is GAPE?
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:48 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


the acronym for global animal protein enterprise is GAPE

Well, if I hadn't been put off enough by the phrase itself, the acronym certainly does.

/literally set down sandwich upon reading acronym
posted by Ghidorah at 7:52 PM on September 8, 2013


I look forward to the new packaging - "now with 30% more cardboard".

That was a hoax.
posted by user92371 at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2013


This move is certainly not kosher.
posted by symbioid at 8:02 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you for posting this, passing on to many Virginian friends now...but I gotta say that given the possible interpretations this post really deserved a NIN lyric as a title (that having been said, I love Zero Wing and own it on MegaDrive).
posted by trackofalljades at 10:49 PM on September 8, 2013



And what about the heparin supply?


If y'all haven't read MonkeyToes link, take a look, it's very interesting.

In addition to pork products, Smithfield is one of the largest U.S.-based suppliers of crude heparin, the starting material for a crucial blood thinner used by some 12 million American patients.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined several years ago that the contamination of heparin, through the addition of overly sulfated chondroitin sulfate, occurred in China prior to shipment to the U.S., and was done intentionally for economic gain.

posted by dubold at 2:27 AM on September 9, 2013


'global animal protein enterprise'

I'm reading this phrase over and over and it still doesn't sound right...


Quite, and that's why I did this post, because of that phrase alone. Images of unidentifiable food being sold with the unreassuring label "Contains protein from more than one continent". I'm nearly a vegetarian now, due to a recent and persistent instinctive recoil from meat and so-called "meat based products". This nudges me a little nearer.

And on the slight derail of calling food "products", is this to try and make people forget that the food is something you put inside you, is broken down by your own body, and then whatever the heck is left is absorbed, used, becomes part of you? You are what you eat, be it a product or animal protein or whatever?
posted by Wordshore at 3:30 AM on September 9, 2013


At the 1,800-worker Shuanghui plant where Guan cuts pork, average income is $500 a month.
...
That's less than the typical $650-$700 weekly earnings, not counting benefits, in Denison, Iowa, at the Smithfield-owned Farmland Foods factory that counts Iversen among 1,600 employees.


What's interesting is actually how small that gap is. The wage difference (granted, before transfer payments) is only about 500% in nominal terms, that may seem like a lot, but once you adjust for cost of living it's a lot closer than I would have thought. Of course there's bound to be plenty of other differences (number of days off, safety, other benefits) but 10 or 15 years ago I can assure you that the difference would have been much higher.

Yeah, I get that. But the regulators are charged with the PUBLIC interest.

The regulators are mostly charged with regulating one or two particular aspects of industry within the limits set by the legislature. This deal was just approved from a national security point of view because there's no crucial national security interest at stake. The USDA and OSHA regulate food and worker safety at the plant but they can't block a deal just because they don't like the idea of Chinese company owning an American pork processor.

The all purpose regulatory body which has a mandate to look at the public interest in the broadest possible sense and is allowed to mostly decide for itself what that means is congress. For obvious reasons, it isn't possible for unelected administrators to regulate the public good in general because that would mean having them decide for themselves what that means. Instead congress instantiates regulatory bodies with rule-making and enforcement powers circumscribed by primary legislation where it believes that this furthers the public interest.
posted by atrazine at 9:29 AM on September 9, 2013


Lard almighty, I hope we loin our lesson, butt soon. This ain't no picnic. If we don't choose sides, looks like we will all have to shoulder the burden. There's too much at steak here; our workers won't be bringing home the bacon any more. I ham not kidding.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:41 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lard almighty

Just like MetaFilter. Serious discussion cheek by jowl with hideous puns.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:18 PM on September 10, 2013


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