Letter from Langdon: Follow the Money

China has already siphoned cash from Missouri’s coffers. Now the state Legislature seems intent on pouring more money into big, foreign ag by allowing increased international land sales and protecting nuisance industries.

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No doubt about it. China has the money.

We gave it to them.

That was the case a few years back when a Chinese company led Moberly, Missouri, taxpayers astray by running off with a $39 million city bond passed to build an artificial sweetener factory.    

Now another Chinese corporation wants to buy Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion.

The stakes just got higher, and so might the fall out.

Back in 2009 the Missouri General Assembly made Smithfield subsidiaries in the state “permanent nuisances.” That designation limits those operations’ accountability and liability in one neatly wrapped legislative package. You have to wonder what happened in the months leading up to that deal. It’s possible that when the Legislature was considering the special treatment for Smithfield subsidiaries in the state, the meat company was already in talks with the Chinese purchaser, Shuanghui Limited.

Was that legislation a key component to finalizing Smithfield’s sale?

Now Smithfield, under the ownership of Shuanghui Limited, could grow pork production in Missouri by 20% without facing any serious liability penalties at all.

China has been responsible for shipping to U.S. consumers cancer-causing chemicals in dry wall, baby formula and pet food.

Will pork be different? Maybe. That’s because our-made-in-America pork will be going the opposite direction to feed newly affluent consumers in China.

The pro-China legislative package got even bigger this year when the Missouri General Assembly stepped up to approve foreign ownership of Missouri farmland. At first limited to one half percent, then upped to 1 percent, it’s an arbitrary number that could easily move higher along with foreign temptation to own Missouri.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the foreign-ownership bills. But the sentiment in the rest of Jefferson City seems to be if they want it, let them have it all?

State Representative Casey Guernsey was quoted as saying he was only trying to make the law clearer by requiring state approval of foreign purchases. We have foreign ownership already. They’ve been skirting the law for years.

So why not make it legal?

Does it never occur to anyone simply to enforce the laws we have?

It’s become easy to predict Missouri legislative support of industrial agriculture. As an editorial in the St Louis Post Dispatch pointed out, public disclosure of China’s intentions wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Missouri legislation. But it would have been interesting to see locally elected lawmakers struggle to justify a Missouri alliance with Communist China, especially while Chinese Internet hackers on the mainland attack and steal U.S. military and industrial secrets. 

Federal officials have already said this will not affect national security. It’s only food after all. And Smithfield management hasn’t impressed investors. The buyout is popular with them.

(Five top Smithfield executives get to keep their seven-figure jobs by the way–for the time being.)

Smithfield’s acquisition gives a major Chinese corporation unfettered access to assets they would unlikely be able to duplicate here, including an East Coast port capable of importing significant supplies of oil seeds and feed grain from South America. Those supplies would be in direct competition with Missouri corn and soybeans for what we once thought of as a captive domestic livestock market.

Are Chinese-owned hogs in Missouri still considered domestic?

Maybe it’s only business. But still, it would be nice to see the General Assembly rise up in defense of Missouri’s smaller family farms.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the money. 

 

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