Myth Busting: No, Your Pork Doesn’t Come from China

There’s so much misinformation circulating on social media (and now I heard it on a radio program recently) that can be summarized as those “awful companies like Smithfield that raise pigs here in America but send them to China for processing before the meat is sent back to America to grocery stores–and then claim these are American products.” Aarrrgghh.

A caller to the talk show was irate about this, and the host agreed with her premise. Well, I’m not an expert in the meat industry, but I grew up on an Iowa hog farm, still live and work on an Iowa farm, worked in ag my entire career and know these things to be true:

1.) There’s a reason why new pork processing plants have been built in Iowa in recent years, like the new one near Eagle Grove. Iowa farmers raise a lot of pigs, and it makes economic and common sense to process the pigs close to where they are produced, rather than shipping them halfway around the world.

2.) Pigs that go to market weigh a lot (well over 200 pounds each, sometimes close to 300 pounds). Would it make any sense to ship them to China for processing and send the product back to America? Nope. Think how costly that would be.

I shared all this on a Facebook post the last week of April 2020 and was amazed when the post when viral within hours. Not only did the post garner 82 comments and 151 shares in less than a week, but it prompted many people to thank me for addressing this myth. I was pleased  that my ag industry friends joined the conversation to combat fear with facts. One, a former executive with the National Pork Board, noted, “USDA has not approved China to ship pork to the U.S.  In addition, China has lost half of their swine herd to African swine fever and is buying large amounts from anywhere they get their hands on it to address the shortage. They have no pork to export. End of story.

But what about Smithfield “being owned by China?”
If you’d like to dig a little deeper, here’s some information from Smithfield Foods, since Smithfield is often associated with the misinformation going around:

Smtihfield Foods was founded in Smithfield, Virginia, in 1936 and was acquired by Hong Kong-based WH Group in 2013.

Does Smithfield now import products from China?
Smithfield has not, does not, and will not import any products from China to the United States. No Smithfield products come from animals raised, processed, or packaged in China. All our U.S. products are made in one of our nearly 50 facilities across America. These products are produced in compliance with the strict standards and regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal and state authorities.
Is WH Group owned by the Chinese government?
WH Group is a publicly traded company with shareholders around the world. Anyone anywhere can purchase shares of WH Group on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the stock code 00288. In fact, WH Group’s shareholders include many large U.S.-based financial institutions. It is not a Chinese state-owned enterprise and does not undertake commercial activities on behalf of the Chinese government.

How has the acquisition impacted the U.S. pork industry and the country’s economy?

Smithfield and the U.S. pork industry export products to China, benefitting American pork producers and processors. More exports to China mean more American jobs and more demand for products “Made in the USA,” and reduces the U.S. global trade deficit.
Also, America exports plenty of pork around the world, including China. Here’s an April 3, 2020, press release from the U.S. Meat Export Federation about the amount of U.S. pork that is exported: Exports accounted for just under 33% of total February pork production and nearly 30% for muscle cuts only, the highest on record and up substantially from last year (24% and 21%, respectively). The January-February ratios were 31.3% of total production and 28.6% for muscle cuts, up from 23.8% and 20.6%, respectively, in 2019.

The bottom line? Don’t worry. Your pork doesn’t come from China.

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