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Smithfield Foods was founded in Virginia in 1936, and its pork products are ubiquitous in U.S. supermarkets, but the company was actually bought by WH Group, formerly known as Shuanghui International, for $4.7 billion in 2013.
Smithfield became a subsidiary of the publicly traded Chinese corporation after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) said the acquisition would not endanger national security.
But critics of the deal pointed out the Chinese government's heavy involvement if not outright control of the country's industries.
“Food security is national security,” Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow told PBS NewsHour in 2014. “And I can’t imagine that the American people will feel comfortable if they wake up someday and find that half of our food processors are owned by China. And I think there are some very, very tough questions that need to be answered.”
Smithfield's CEO at the time, C. Larry Pope, said the company would continue with "business as usual — only better."
"We have established Smithfield as the world's leading and most trusted vertically integrated pork processor and hog producer, and are excited that Shuanghui recognizes our best-in-class operations, our outstanding food safety practices and our 46,000 hard-working and dedicated employees," Smithfield's CEO at the time, C. Larry Pope, said in a statement. "We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the United States and throughout the world."
WH Group is headquartered in Hong Kong. The company says its main business is packaged meats along with fresh pork and hog production. It owns both Smithfield, the biggest U.S. pork food company, and Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Co., Asia's biggest meat processing company.
These days, Smithfield has been in the headlines after its CEO warned of a meat shortage when the company's Sioux Falls, South Dakota, facility was one of the first to temporarily close because of a coronavirus outbreak.
"What's happened in this pandemic is we still have that bounty of livestock," CEO Ken Sullivan told "Mornings with Maria" in April. "The linchpin in the middle is the harvest facilities, and there's a relatively small number ... of plants that actually harvest all those animals and turn it into food."