Chinese Meat Firm With Terrible Food Safety Record Buys The Largest Pork Producer In The U.S.

Smithfield pigs (Credit: Karen Kasmauski/Science Faction/Corbis)

Two global meat giants with shady food safety histories are planning to merge in hopes of becoming the most powerful meat producer in the world. Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the U.S., has been bought by China’s Shuanghui International Holdings Limited for $4.7 billion. If deal is cleared by Smithfield shareholders and the U.S. government, the global meat industry, controlled by just a handful of companies, will become even less competitive than it already is.

With one giant conglomeration controlling most of the meat market, food safety standards may drop to even more abysmal depths. Neither Smithfield nor Shuanghui have shown much interest in reforming their production practices, even after sickening thousands. In 2011, a Shuanghui plant was caught feeding their pigs an illegal additive, clenbuterol, to speed muscle growth. Five people were charged with harsh criminal sentences and dozens of others were punished. A month after the discovery, nearly 300 people fell violently ill from eating clenbuterol-tainted pork.

Smithfield, meanwhile, routinely abuses animals, employees, food safety, and the environment. In 1997, two slaughterhouses owned by the company were found guilty of dumping waste in a major Virginia river. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million for nearly 7,000 violations of the Clean Water Act — but that didn’t stop them from cutting dangerous corners in other areas. Millions of gallons of waste from Smithfield factories is dumped in enormous lagoons that easily overflow and have contaminated rivers. In 2010, a Humane Society video exposed horrific conditions inside a Smithfield factory. The company pledged to reform their practices within ten years, but it has yet to be determined if Smithfield will keep the promise now that they have been sold to Shuanghui.

The merger could also mean Smithfield’s factory farms will expand even more aggressively to keep up with new demand. Though Americans are stereotyped as ravenous meat-lovers, pork consumption in China dwarfs that in the U.S. by a staggering 41.6 million tons a year. China’s pork production has shot up dramatically in the past few decades and now comprises half the pork in the entire world:

On the other side of the globe, Americans are eating less pork — and less meat in general. The new, intensive demand from China will likely bolster and expand the factory farming operations that might have declined if Americans continue to trend away from industrial pork.