China pork plant purchase raises heart drug concerns

U.S. lawmakers are concerned a Chinese company’s planned $4.7 billion acquisition of pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc could affect the safety and availability of heparin, a blood-thinner derived from pig intestines and widely used in heart surgery and kidney dialysis.

Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce wrote to Smithfield on July 24 asking the company to turn over information on its production of crude heparin, the raw ingredient used to make the drug.

As well as being the world’s largest pork producer, with more than 46,000 employees in 25 U.S. states and four countries, Smithfield is also a major supplier of crude heparin.

In a letter to Smithfield’s chief executive Larry Pope, six Republican committee members said the proposed acquisition of Smithfield by Shuanghui International Holdings “raises questions related to the safety and adequacy of the U.S. heparin supply.”

A spokeswoman for Smithfield, Keira Lombardo, confirmed the company had received the committee’s letter “and will respond within the timeframe the committee has outlined.”

The request comes just weeks after the Senate Agriculture Committee met to examine the potential food safety implications of the deal, which would be the biggest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company.

Smithfield said on Wednesday that the U.S. government has decided to take an additional 45 days to review the planned deal. Smithfield and Shuanghui submitted their proposal in June to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, an executive branch panel that examines foreign investment for potential threats to national security.

Many deals are approved during an initial 30-day review, but some transactions are given a second 45-day examination.

“The Committee’s investigation indicates that the U.S. heparin supply is stressed, and could well be in shortage,” the lawmakers’ letter said.

“China’s heparin market is experiencing its own pressures, and Smithfield Foods under Shuanghui control may be pressured to export its crude heparin product to China instead of supplying U.S. companies.”

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