WASHINGTON, DC – Senate lawmakers on Thursday announced legislation that would give top U.S. agriculture and food officials permanent representation on a panel of government officials that reviews proposed mergers and acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign entities.
The growing number of foreign owners of former U.S. companies such as the Chinese-based WH Group buying Smithfield Foods, the Brazilian-based JBS purchasing Swift & Co., as well as the beef operations of Smithfields, the now Germany-based Bayer ownership of Monsanto and ChemChina buying Syngenta has led to the bipartisan Food Security National Security Act.
The legislation would give top U.S. agriculture and food officials permanent representation on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is a panel of government officials that reviews proposed mergers and acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign entities. CFIUS assesses whether transactions initiated by foreign entities could threaten U.S. national security interests.
CFIUS currently does not include permanent representation from the USDA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agencies responsible for safeguarding the nation’s food supply.
The Food Security is National Security Act was introduced by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Earlier this week Grassley said during his weekly call with agricultural journalists it was “our national-security interest to ensure agricultural-supply chains are safe from potential adversaries.”
The legislation also adds new criteria to the CFIUS review process to ensure that proposed transactions are reviewed specifically for their potential effect on American food and agricultural systems, including availability of, access to, or safety and quality of food.
“Specifically including food and agriculture in the review process is an important national security safeguard and sends a strong signal to potential foreign purchasers,” the senators said in a news release.
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said including the secretary of agriculture on the committee would be good for agriculture. “The challenges presented by the pandemic and world supply chain issues have driven home agriculture’s ties to national security,” Duvall said in a statement.
“Monitoring and evaluating mergers and acquisitions, as well as who contributes to our food production and distribution, is critical. The secretary of agriculture understands that, and he would bring a much-needed perspective to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.”
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said there has been an “alarming” amount of foreign investment in U.S. agriculture companies. “Amidst rising consolidation in our domestic food and agriculture system, these mergers and acquisitions pose a heightened threat to our food security,” he said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., introduced the Foreign Adversary Risk Management Act (FARM), a bicameral and bipartisan bill to provide more agricultural leverage in foreign acquisition of U.S. companies.
Senators raised similar questions when Chinese-based WH Group bought Smithfield Foods, as well as when Germany-based Bayer bought Monsanto and ChemChina bought Syngenta. CFIUS approved the acquisitions and it was unclear how much USDA was allowed to weigh in with CFIUS.
Tuberville’s bill would add language to protect agriculture from foreign control through acquisitions and it would designate agricultural supply chains as critical infrastructure and technologies. The bill also would add a report to Congress on current and potential foreign investments in U.S. agriculture.
“Our national security depends on a food system that is safe, secure, and resilient,” Stabenow said in a statement.
“As foreign entities continue their acquisitions of U.S. food and agriculture companies, American farmers and families deserve to know these transactions receive proper scrutiny. This bill ensures that the U.S. has the appropriate tools and people in place to safeguard America’s food security, food safety, biosecurity, and the highly competitive U.S. farm sector as a whole.”