What Smithfield means - the shape of things to come

The sale of Smithfield to China’s Shuanghui Group should make you very afraid.  And it’s not because there will be antifreeze in your Christmas ham.  It’s even worse.

dead pig

Selling of America

Smithfield’s sale to Shuanghui, formerly a communist state-owned enterprise that now partly owned by Goldman Sachs, is a direct result of our trade deficit with China, which was $295 billion in 2011.  We send boatloads of money to China every day in return for the cheap consumer merchandise filling our store shelves and shopping malls. Apologists say we should send China a thank you note for the ‘everyday low prices,’ but we don’t need to – we send them the money they use to buy our productive enterprises.

As long as we continue to run persistent trade deficits with China we’ll see more deals like Smithfield and Nexteer, the one-time GM and Delphi steering operation controlled by China's biggest aerospace company.  And while the doctrine of shareholder value shredded the social contract between corporations and the communities in which they operate, the rise of absentee landlords like Shuanghui takes it to the next level, with even less commitment to an American workforce being paid a living wage.

More factory farms

Smithfield does more than pack meat – it’s a vertically integrated operation that raises 15 million pigs a year in industrial hog operations to feed its slaughterhouses. If, as analysts say, the Smithfield sale is about supplying pork to China, we can expect a hundred factory farms to bloom and a further crackdown on efforts to regulate them.  Industrial ag sponsors gag laws to criminalize documenting what goes on inside its operations.  Now, the hands holding the gag and paying the lobbyists will be Chinese, if that makes any difference.

Race to the bottom in food safety

We don’t know if China’s abysmal record in food safety will become the benchmark for Smithfield.  But it’s safe to say that top management is not steeped in a culture of high standards – just two years ago, Shuanghui was accused of feeding a dangerous additive to pigs destined for human consumption.  Don’t expect the new bosses to champion higher standards in the industrial food chain.

Loss of food sovereignty and food security

The FDA and food safety regulators have been captured by industrial agribusiness (a complex which includes Big Pharma, since factory farms are the largest customers for antibiotics made in China). US government regulators will now be getting their marching orders from Chinese bosses.  You could argue this will make little difference considering the lack of patriotic identity in the corporate suites of American-in-name-only companies. But if there’s a choice between supplying more hog carcasses to China or preserving the health of rural America, you can be sure the decision will be made in a Shanghai minute.

Banana Republic USA?

When the regulators take orders from those they are tasked to oversee, and those giving the orders are of foreign agency, the situation bears more than a passing resemblance to a banana republic

The pliant governments of the original banana republics served foreign corporations.  Today, our elected representatives prostitute themselves to those who can finance their campaigns and provide lucrative employment upon retirement from public office. We’ve been accustomed to the paymasters having American monikers.  No more.  Now, they could be a state-owned enterprise from Henan, China as well as a private equity firm from Manhattan (or both at the same time). 

In this late stage of globalization, stateless corporations with no loyalty to any country call the shots the world over, with all nations reduced to the status of banana republics.  Arrangements such as the TransPacific Partnership make this understanding explicit as it seeks to bring national representative governments to heel under global corporatist rule. 

We may not be able to do anything about Smithfield, but to preserve the promise of representative self-government in the USA, we must stop the TransPacific Partnership.