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Congress questions Syngenta, ChemChina deal

U.S. senators seek review of acquisition’s effects on food safety, national security

by Britt E. Erickson
April 1, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 14

Credit: Syngenta
Syngenta logo made from crops growing in a field.
Credit: Syngenta

A planned $43 billion takeover of the agrochemical firm Syngenta by ChemChina, one of China’s biggest chemical companies, could have negative effects on U.S. national security and food safety, U.S. senators say.

Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are urging the Treasury Department to seek input from the Food & Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture as part of a review of the pending deal by the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS).

This merger raises questions about national security because of the need to ensure a safe food supply.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa)

This review process, which the Treasury Department leads, is voluntary, but both companies have opted to proceed with it. FDA and USDA—the two agencies with jurisdiction over food safety in the U.S.—are not typically involved in such reviews.

“The food and agriculture sectors are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and this merger raises questions about national security because of the need to ensure a safe food supply,” Grassley says. USDA and FDA “are the experts on the food system, so it’s a natural fit for them to be a part of any CFIUS review,” he adds.

USDA officials previously raised red flags about ChemChina’s proposal to buy Syngenta. “I have a watchful eye on all of this and continue to be extremely concerned about the way in which biotechnology and innovation is being treated and impeded by a system in China that is often times not based on science and appears to be more based on politics,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in February when news of the takeover was announced.

Syngenta and ChemChina are welcoming a review of the proposed deal by U.S. federal agencies. The companies do not believe the acquisition poses a threat to U.S. food safety or national security. “Our vision is not confined to our mutual interests, but will also respond to and maximize the interests of farmers and consumers around the world,” says Ren Jianxin, chairman of ChemChina.



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