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Chinese company buying Smithfield

The name synonymous with integrated pork production in the U.S. now has a new home in central China.

Company officials with Smithfield Foods and Shuanghui International, a central China-based meat processing company -- that country's largest -- announced Wednesday that Shuanghui would acquire Smithfield for $4.7 billion (U.S.). Under the deal that Smithfield leaders say values their company at $7.1 billion, Shuanghui will buy outstanding shares of Smithfield -- representing just over 30% of the company's worth -- for $34 each.

Smithfield's operations in the U.S. and abroad won't see much change, if any, says president and CEO C. Larry Pope. The acquisition is instead an opportunity for growth down the road.

"We do not anticipate any changes in how we do business operationally in the United States and throughout the world. We will become part of an enterprise that shares our belief in global opportunities and our commitment to the highest standards of product safety and quality," Pope says in a company report on Wednesday. "With our shared expertise and leadership, we look forward to accelerating a global expansion strategy as part of Shuanghui."

Pope's counterpart at Shuanghui, chairman Wan Long, says the move combines two companies with equal industry status in their respective nations, and that his company will offer Smithfield access to a booming market, while Smithfield offers an operational base that's not found in other companies, Long says.

"The acquisition provides Smithfield the opportunity to expand its offering of products to China through Shuanghui's distribution network. Shuanghui will gain access to high-quality, competitively-priced and safe U.S. products, as well as Smithfield's best practices and operational expertise," Long says. "We were especially attracted to Smithfield for its strong management team, leading brands, and vertically integrated model."

The deal may not go as swimmingly as company leaders hope. There's been pressure from shareholders lately to remedy what they call "inadequate" performance. Just last week, officials with Smithfield's largest shareholder, Continental Grain Company, issued a report highlighting their ideas for Smithfield to erase its "long history of underperformance" and recommended ways they felt the company's value could grow domestically.

The primary way the report shows Smithfield can achieve better gains is by splitting into three independent companies, Continental officials say. Without doing so, they say the company is maintaining "a continuation of an unacceptable status quo," according to the report.

Shuanghui's acqusition of Smithfield -- pending regulatory approval -- is expected to be finalized "in the second half of 2013," according to Smithfield.

That regulatory approval may not be a slam dunk, however; one lawmaker issued a statement Wednesday foreshadowing it may be a tough deal to meet that regulatory approval. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, former chair of the House subcommittee for USDA funding, said in a statement Wednesday that it could be a tough row to hoe for the companies involved in light of potential food safety missteps that could endanger consumers.

“This potential merger raises real food safety concerns that should alarm consumers.  We know that Chinese food products have been a threat to public health and that Shuanghui was found to have produced and sold tainted pork. This merger may only make it more difficult to protect the food supply," she says. "I have deep doubts about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first. I will be in touch with regulators throughout this process to ensure the public health and safety of the American public is safeguarded.”

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