It was an interesting week in the food and farm world. Some interesting (and troubling) developments have come to light.
Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. purchased Smithfield Foods Inc. for the bargain price of $4.7 billion. Smithfield is the world’s largest pork producer and China is the world’s largest pork consumer so it seems like an ideal match, especially given China’s recent domestic pork production problems. You can read more about the purchase in any of these articles.
Most articles focus on food safety and national security concerns, but no one seems to be questioning the very existence of a global food supply chain. Should we be exporting pork products to China? Is it efficient? How many calories of fossil fuel does it take to grow, slaughter, package and transport a pig from the US to China? And how many calories does that pig yield? Wouldn’t it be better for Shuanghui to invest that $4.7 billion in developing and growing their own domestic pig production market? It may be easier to buy out Smithfield, but is it practical and sustainable?
I have a personal interest in this story as Smithfield ham is my heritage. My grandparents raised and cured ham in Smithfield, VA long before Smithfield Foods became an international pork producing giant. One of these days I’ll do a post on the history of the Smithfield ham and how it went from a small town tradition to a household name detached from the town that birthed it. But that is for another day.
In other news, while pork exports may be about to explode, wheat exports are headed in the opposite direction. A farmer in Oregon found unauthorized genetically modified wheat in his fields and many countries that import wheat from the U.S. are putting the brakes on those imports. The EU, Japan, & South Korea are all considering regulations and restrictions on U.S. wheat imports until confidence is restored that any imports are GMO free.
Monsanto pioneered the wheat back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but it never made it to market because farmers were afraid that foreign consumers were reject it, a fear that is quickly becoming a reality. Monsanto had planted trial fields in Oregon during the testing phase, but the project never went further than those tests and they burned fields where the wheat was tested to destroy any remaining plants.
Recently a farmer founds wheat in a field where it didn’t belong and he tried to get rid of it by spraying Roundup. The wheat was unaffected so he sent it off for testing. The results came back positive that the wheat was genetically modified to withstand Roundup. That’s the problem with plants. They are alive. They breed and reproduce and once something is out there, it is hard to control. The USDA has an entire page dedicated to invasive species – plants that have been introduced to a non-native region, intentionally or not, and have taken over by reproductive force. Think kudzu in the south.
Whether you buy into the health risks posed by GM foods or not, a product that cannot be controlled is something that should give us all pause.
For more on the GM wheat issue, check out these articles: