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Good-bye Smithfield; hello China

How often do we think about where our food comes from? Who is to thank for the pork chop, T-bone or bratwurst that is going to be on your grill this weekend?

Most people don’t have a lot of time to put much thought or concern into these questions; we just know we can go to the grocery store and get it from the meat counter.

I think it might be time that we start to pay a little more attention to where the food we buy comes from, and who we are supporting by making our choices. It could make a difference to our communities and our country.

Recently, the largest American pork producer and processor (Smithfield Foods) was bought by a Chinese company (Shuanghui International). Smithfield produces about 14 percent and processes around 26 percent of America’s pork. With this purchase, the Virginia-based company will no longer be a publicly-traded company, leaving it with little domestic control.

China is the No. 1 pork consuming country in the world. With their growing appetite and limited space, it is no surprise that they would be looking to secure imports and not leave the satisfaction of their appetite for pork in another country’s hands. With Shuanghui in control of Smithfield, it is safe to speculate that the exports of pork from the United States to China will increase. An increase in exports of U.S. pork means less pork and potentially higher prices domestically.

Smithfield is not the first American-based protein producer and/or processor to be bought by a foreign company. In 2007, Brazilian-based company JBS purchased Swift & Co. (U.S. based beef and pork processor). This same company also purchased Pilgrim’s Pride (U.S. poultry producer) in 2009.

The precedent has been set. We are little-by-little giving up control over an important part of our growth and survival as humans. Putting our protein assets in the hands of foreign countries will eventually take us out of the front of the chow line, left with our hand out for what they do not want or need.

This buyout and the speculated changes to follow could be opportunity for smaller pork producers to expand. It is up to the small companies and the family-owned operations to fill the gap that will be left by higher exports, but we need your help. We need people that will take pride in buying the quality pork products that we are proud to produce for you. We need patriotic consumers. With your help, we can stay in control of our country’s food and at the front of the line.

Kyle Hayse is a breeding manager at Cowser Inc. in the Bradford area.

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