Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer, may merge with a China-based company. And that could mean a lot more pork, and hog manure produced in the United States. According to Scientific American, Smithfield's massive industrial pig farming practices produced more than 4.7 billion gallons of hog manure in the U.S. last year. That number would significantly increase if the merger goes through.
Hong-Kong based Shuanghui International Holdings is in talks to purchase the Virginia-based Smithfield Foods in efforts to increase pork production—with much of the meat being exported to China.
The pig farming merger is also of high interest to the Chinese firm in order to help the country develop large-scale hog farms of its own, and Smithfield's reputation could be integral in the process. "China’s State Council in 2011 said that it planned to put $385 million a year toward construction of large-scale hog farms for five years, moving toward consolidation," reports Scientific American, and the country is shutting down backyard pig farming operations in efforts to support the growth of industrial hog farming.
If the acquisition goes through, Smithfield will cease to be a publicly traded company in the U.S. Information on the business and operation side would come through the Chinese parent company, which has many environmentalists concerned, particularly over the practice of waste management.
Already a heavily scrutinized pork producer, Smithfield has been targeted over its management of animal waste. "The majority of hog feces from Smithfield sits in earthen lagoons where it naturally ages for six to 12 months before the slurry is then sprayed on agricultural fields as fertilizer," reports Scientific American. The practices mean environmental and human health risks from spraying the manure, and a higher likelihood of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the food system. With increased production and less disclosure from the merger, both issues could become more severe and more difficult to manage.
China is already routinely the subject of food safety and health issues and violations.
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