I am currently on a bit of a vacation, taking my children to visit their grandparents in Rhinebeck. One of the nicest parts of visiting the grandparents is waking up to breakfast. The house fills with the smell of bacon and maple syrup, reminding me that I am still somebody's child.
This morning, as the family enjoyed breakfast, I complemented the chef - my father - on his masterpiece. "Great bacon," I muttered. "Well enjoy it. This might be the last bacon we see for a while," glumly responded my father. "The Chinese are buying Smithfield."
Smithfield is the producer of the bacon that my father journeys to Stop & Shop every week to buy; the company produces familiar brands like Armour, Eckrich and Carando. Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the United States. It is also the subject of a proposed $4.7 billion purchase by China's Shuanghui International. The Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture are currently investigating whether this purchase is a threat to national security.
Really? Bacon is a threat to national security. The fat clogs your arteries. It is filled with ingredients like nitrates and nitrites, that are not recommended by most physicians as part of a healthy diet. Many hogs are raised in crowded conditions and therefore are pumped with antibiotics that are promoting the growth of anti-biotic resistant organisms. They are fed genetically modified corn treated with pesticides.
But bacon is delicious, so most people try not to look too closely at the label.
However, many Senators are concerned how the purchase of Smithfield by a Chinese company will affect our nation's food supply. Perhaps they fear that Shuanghui will bring to Smithfield the same practices that have made the "Made in China" label representative of low quality. This is unlikely, because food produced in the United States will still be subject to all of the rules created by our regulators.
Of course, JBS, a Brazilian company, did not face this level of scrutiny when it bought the Swift Company in 2007. And people don't seem to mind that many products, including half of the apple juice (an ingredient in a surprising number of foods) consumed in the United States, are produced outside the country.
Rather than food security, opposing the purchase of Smithfield has more to do with job security for officeholders. This helps them campaign on a tough China policy, rather than on their failure to promote business growth in America. It is far easier to blame China than it is to accept responsibility for institutional failure.
Smithfield should not be punished for creating a business that is attractive for another company to buy. And yet it seems a group of Senators wants to punish a business for being successful, just for publicity. These anti-growth policies are not what the United States needs if we wish compete with China economically. If the United States truly wants to protect the security of the nation's food supply, they should increase the amount of information given to consumers who want to make informed choices for their families.
That said, I hope Shuanghui International sends $4.7 billion to the United States to purchase Smithfield. That could be quite a boost to economic recovery. Then I hope everybody follows my father's lead and refuses to buy Smithfield products. Support other American producers instead. Allow those companies to grow and create the jobs that will be lost as a result of Smithfield's demise. Or, seek out local producers with production methods considered healthier.
As consumers, we are as vital to the economy as we are as voters in a democracy. One single dollar, much like a single vote, does not make much of a difference. However, if we, as Americans, can come together behind a shared set of goals and ideals, there is no stopping the impact of that force.
All that remains is the will to act.
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