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Senate Bill Would Give USDA, HHS Permanent Representation On Foreign Acquisition Panel

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the US Senate this week would give top US agricultural and food officials permanent representation on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Introduced by US Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the “Food Security is National Security Act of 2017” would also include new agriculture and food-related criteria for CFIUS to consider when reviewing transactions that could result in control of a US business by a foreign company.
CFIUS is a panel of government officials tasked with reviewing proposed mergers and acquisitions of US companies, including foreign entities seeking to purchase US agricultural and food assets.

The job of CFIUS is to assess whether or not transactions initiated by foreign entities threaten to impair US national security interests.

 

“As foreign entities continue their aggressive acquisitions of US food and agriculture companies, it’s imperative that these transactions face additional scrutiny.
—Senator Debbie Stabenow

 

Currently, CFIUS does not include permanent representation from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, which oversees the Food and Drug Administration), the two federal agencies with primary responsibility for safeguarding the integrity, resilience and quality of the US food supply.

The US Treasury secretary is the chairperson of CFIUS, whose members include the heads of the following departments and offices: Treasury Department, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, Commerce Department, Defense Department, State Department, Department of Energy, Office of the US Trade Representative, and Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The following offices also observe and, as appropriate, participate in CFIUS’s activities: White House Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisors, National Security Council, National Economic Council, and Homeland Security Council.

The Food Security is National Security Act gives both the US secretary of agriculture and the secretary of HHS permanent representation on CFIUS to protect US food security.

The bill also adds new criteria to the CFIUS review process to ensure that proposed transactions are reviewed specifically for their potential impact on US food and agricultural systems, including availability of, access to, or safety and quality of food.

Specifically including food and agriculture in the review process is an important national security safeguard and sends a strong signal to potential foreign purchasers, Grassley and Stabenow said.

“As we think about the future and the growing global population, it’s important to consider who will control the food supply. Today, there may not be a food shortage in the world, only distribution problems that are more the result of politics not logistics, but in the decades to come, it may be a different story,” Grassley said.

“The approval by CFIUS of the sale of US agricultural assets seem more focused on the present state of the food industry instead of the future supply situation. We owe it to our farmers and Americans who rely on farmers to grow their food to be more strategic. Especially as countries around the world are making moves to ensure adequate supplies,” Grassley added.

“Protecting the integrity, safety, and resiliency of America’s food system is core to our national security,” Stabenow said. “As foreign entities continue their aggressive acquisitions of US food and agriculture companies, it’s imperative that these transactions face additional scrutiny.

“This bill ensures that the US has the appropriate tools and people in place to safeguard America’s food security, food safety, biosecurity, and the highly competitive US farm sector as a whole,” Stabenow continued.

The legislation is being supported by both the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU).

“The food system in the United States is world class not only because of our great farmers and ranchers, but for the entire supply chain as well. Monitoring and evaluating the effects of mergers and acquisitions in agriculture as well as food production and distribution is critical and the secretary of agriculture would bring vital knowledge to the table,” said Zippy Duvall, the AFBF’s president.

“Potential impacts on global and domestic food security should be a primary consideration for those tasked with ensuring our national security,” said Roger Johnson, NFU’s president.