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Pork Giant's Sale to China Could Put Pig Promises in Jeopardy

PHOTO: The Humane Society of the United States wants Smithfield Foods to continue to phase out use of "gestational crates," even if it is sold to a Chinese company. Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States
PHOTO: The Humane Society of the United States wants Smithfield Foods to continue to phase out use of "gestational crates," even if it is sold to a Chinese company. Photo credit: Humane Society of the United States
June 5, 2013

LANSING, Mich. - Last week's big business story about the sale of Smithfield Foods to a Chinese company puts a "pig promise" in peril.

After the Humane Society of the United States exposed the treatment of pigs at a Smithfield factory in Virginia, the company promised to make changes, including expanding the cramped cages that didn't allow the pigs to move. Now, Paul Shapiro, the society's vice president for farm animal protection, is worried about the fate of those factory farm improvements if the sale to the Chinese firm is approved.

"As terrible as animal welfare in the U.S. agricultural industry is, it is even worse in China," Shapiro said, "so there's a real concern about that here."

Smithfield's chief executive issued a statement saying the company - the largest pork producer in the United States - does not anticipate any changes in the way it does business. Shapiro sees that as a good sign.

"Fortunately, the modest animal-welfare policies that Smithfield does have seem to be remaining in place, even in light of this new information," Shapiro said. "However, we need to be vigilant and those policies need to be strengthened."

China's Shuangui International announced a week ago that it would buy Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion. The cash deal still must be approved by a federal government panel that reviews such transactions with foreign companies.

The Smithfield Foods statement is online at investors.smithfieldfoods.com.

Rob South, Public News Service - MI