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Smithfield CEO addresses concerns over China deal

RICHMOND — The head of Smithfield Foods Inc. is trying to ease concerns that the proposed takeover of the world’s largest pork producer by a Chinese company would pose risks to the US food supply.

Chief executive Larry Pope testified Wednesday at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the pending deal struck in May with Shuanghui International, China’s largest meat producer. The plan, which is subject to federal and shareholder approvals, is expected to close later this year. It would be the largest takeover of a US company by a Chinese firm, valued at about $7.1 billion including debt.

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Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, said the proposed purchase of the Smithfield, Va.-based company raises many questions, including the impact on food safety and security. She also said the precedent-setting transaction prompts reservations about the government review process of foreign acquisitions of US companies.

‘‘Smithfield might be the first acquisition of a major food and agricultural company, but I doubt it will be the last,’’ said Stabenow.

She asked the Treasury Department to include both the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration in the government’s review of the sale.

Pope reiterated that the takeover isn’t about importing Chinese pork into the United States and is instead a chance to export into new markets with its brands, such as Smithfield, Armour, and Farmland.

During his remarks, Pope also noted that the proposed buyout and China’s growing demand for pork will be a boon for American agriculture and Smithfield’s 46,000 employees in 25 states and four countries. It also owns more than 400 hog farms and has contracts with more than 2,000 family farmers across the United States.

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