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Modern Parenthood

Smithfield sale to China casts a new light on your kid’s ham sandwich

A Chinese pork producer is looking to buy Smithfield Foods, one of the largest producers of pork products in the US. Should the sale cause parents concern about China's food safety issues?

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / June 5, 2013

Hams and other memorabilia is displayed at a restaurant in Smithfield, Va., on May 29. Smithfield Foods has agreed to be bought by Shuanghui International Holdings for about $4.72 billion. Residents in this southeastern Virginia town have mixed reactions to the idea

Amanda Lucier/The Virginia-Pilot, AP

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Norfolk, Virg.

Imagine a company from China, where food safety is a serious concern, were about to consume Pepsi Co., Dole, General Mills, Nestlé, Kraft or Oscar Mayer food producers. When the news broke here in Virginia that pork producer Smithfield Foods is just a hog’s breath away from being sold to China’s Shuanghui International, moms who fret over food safety standards as they pack ham sandwiches into lunch boxes, serve BLTs and pork roasts, like me, became concerned over the future of those choices. 

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Keira Lombardo, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications at Smithfield Foods, Inc., confirmed in an interview that the potential sale would also include Smithfield brands: Eckrich, Farmland, Armour, Cook’s, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Kretschmar, Curley’s, Carando, Margherita, Healthy Ones.

So the sale includes Armour hot dogs, “the dogs kids love to bite”? That definitely makes this sale a parenting concern at our house. 

While the vast majority of food products that come from China are perfectly safe, pork specifically has been a health issue in China, making it vital for parents to keep a close watch on where their food comes from and who they are trusting with it’s continued safe production. 

Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, a Republican, agrees with that thought and criticized the proposed merger in a 13-paragraph letter sent May 31 to Smithfield President and CEO C. Larry Pope, according to The Virginian-Pilot

Marshall contends that the idea of selling this major food producer to China “has not been received well by my constituents, nor in my own family,” he wrote. “While Shuanghui may purchase your physical plant and property, Smithfield’s former reputation built up from 1936 will not transfer with the sale. Inevitably, the Smithfield ‘brand’ will suffer, and regrettably, so will many Virginians.” 

The delegate is the first Virginia politician to publicly skewer the proposed merger and he points to the discovery of a banned additive, clenbuterol, in pigs raised at a Shuanghui subsidiary.

“China’s widespread food safety problems are known to American consumers and will engulf Smithfield Foods products regardless of the names under which they are sold,” Marshall also wrote, according to The Pilot. 

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