Smithfield Foods, whose signature hams helped make it the world’s largest pork producer, is being bought by a Chinese firm in a deal that marks China’s largest takeover of an American consumer brand.
The $4.7 billion purchase by Shuanghui International touches several sensitive fronts at once — the quick rise of Chinese investment in the United States, China’s troubled record on the environment and the acquisition of Smithfield’s animal gene technology by a country considered to be America’s chief global competitor.
What’s more, the deal puts a major company from a Chinese industry with a history of food-safety problems in charge of a U.S. firm with past environmental problems of its own.
Separately, U.S. government and business officials often complain that China uses strict control of its market of 1.6 billion people to force American companies that want to do business there to surrender intellectual property.
The deal may become a test of U.S. attitudes toward China as it moves through likely reviews by the Justice Department and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.