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Hog grower’s lawyers object to mentions of Chinese ties

February 16, 2015

ROSE HILL, North Carolina (AP) — Lawyers for the world’s largest pork producer say it is bad enough being told your product stinks, but it’s going too far to mention that a Chinese company is behind it.

WHO’S COMPLAINING?

More than 500 neighbors of industrial-scale hog operations across North Carolina have filed 25 lawsuits since last summer. Attorneys contend the residents are forced to tolerate terrible smells and clouds of flies that have been unaddressed since the factory farms moved in during the 1990s.

WHO’S GETTING THE BLAME?

The vast majority of pork products come from factory farms, pioneered by Murphy-Brown LLC a generation ago. Murphy-Brown was bought in 2000 by Smithfield Foods. Smithfield was then purchased by WH Group in 2013 — the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese corporation.

CHINA’S PORK BELLIES

The WH Group buyout was motivated largely to provide the Communist-led country a steady supply of cheaper, untainted U.S.-grown meat.

But the lawsuits contend Chinese demand for more North Carolina-sourced pork will only increase the nuisance for hog-farm neighbors.

SAY WHAT?

Lawyers for Murphy-Brown argue in court documents that litigation over the stink of industrial-scale growing operations should be scrubbed of references to “the Chinese government, Chinese corporations, and Chinese demand for and purchases of pork.”

The references are “scandalous and clearly designed to inflame the jury and the public while taking advantage of xenophobic biases in today’s political landscape,” the company’s lawyers said.

The hog-grower’s lawyers also object to suggestions that the company is subject to influence from Beijing politicians.

CHINESE CONTROL?

The Smithfield Foods takeover was approved after a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal interagency group.

Dartmouth University management professor Matthew Slaughter said in 2013 that Shuanghui — as WH Group was called at the time — wasn’t like the state-owned companies commonly found in Communist economies. Slaughter said its shareholders included Goldman Sachs and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.

But West Virginia University management professor Usha Haley told the same U.S. Senate committee hearing that Shuanghui’s decisions wouldn’t be entirely independent, noting pork is so central to the Chinese diet that Beijing controls domestic pork prices with the world’s only strategic stockpile of pork.

“The price of pigs is linked to China’s social and political stability: When pork prices rise, Beijing assumes that discontent will follow,” she wrote in prepared testimony.

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