By: Johnathan Hettinger, Robert Holly, Jelter Meers, and Erin McKinstry, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting 3 July 2017
In 2013, the Chinese firm Shuanghui received wide public attention when it purchased U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods for a record $4.7 billion.
In an overlooked part of the deal, Shuanghui also acquired more than 146,000 acres of farmland across the United States, worth more than $500 million, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The deal made Shuanghui, now the WH Group Limited, into one of the biggest foreign owners of U.S. agricultural land, according to an analysis of that same data.
That purchase was just a part of a continuing surge in foreign investment in American farmland and food that has raised concerns in Congress and among rural advocacy groups.
“The more control foreign interests have in our food system, the less control we have, obviously,” said Tim Gibbons, a director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, an advocacy organization based in Columbia. “I think it’s a national security concern.”
“When foreign entities buy farmland, my assumption is that we’re never going to get that farmland back,” added Gibbons. “They’re going to keep it forever.”
Indeed, over the past decade, foreign companies have been investing in agricultural land in the United States at a record pace, according to a Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting analysis of USDA data. The data was compiled from 1900 to 2014 under the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act.
While the database has errors and often has incomplete information, it still is a strong indicator of the quantity of land being sold to foreign interests.
The database is the result of a federal law requiring foreign owners to disclose any purchase, sale or lease of American agriculture land. Updated data is set to be released later this year.
The database shows that between 2004 and 2014, the amount of agricultural land held by foreign investors doubled from 13.7 million acres to 27.3 million acres — an area roughly the size of Tennessee.
While representing only about 2 percent of total farmland, the value of the foreign-owned U.S. farmland soared from $17.4 billion (in today’s dollars) to $42.7 billion during that same time period, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Most of today’s foreign investment in agricultural land began to increase in 2005, according to the Midwest Center’s analysis.
Of the top foreign investors who own agricultural land, nine bought most of their space between 2004 and 2014, about $8.1 billion worth of farmland, the Midwest Center found.
In addition to analyzing decades worth of USDA data, the Midwest Center also reviewed federal and state laws meant to monitor or restrict foreign influence in American farmland. The Midwest Center found:
Laws limiting or governing foreign ownership of agriculture land vary from state to state, and who enforces those laws is often unclear.
While purchases are tracked, it’s unclear whether sales of foreign-held agricultural land are.
There is little double-checking of the accuracy of the data, resulting in missing owners and typos in numbers.
Congressional concerns about foreign investment in the food industry prompted Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, to introduce a bill this year to give food and agriculture officials a permanent role on the federal committee in charge of reviewing foreign investment in the United States, something the agriculture industry has lacked.
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Half of U.S. Farmland Being Eyed by Private Equity
By Carey L. Biron Feb 19 2014
WASHINGTON, (IPS) – An estimated 400 million acres of farmland in the United States will likely change hands over the coming two decades as older farmers retire, even as new evidence indicates this land is being strongly pursued by private equity investors.
Mirroring a trend being experienced across the globe, this strengthening focus on agriculture-related investment by the private sector is already leading to a spike in U.S. farmland prices. Coupled with relatively weak federal policies, these rising prices are barring many young farmers from continuing or starting up small-scale agricultural operations of their own.
In the long term, critics say, this dynamic could speed up the already fast-consolidating U.S. food industry, with broad ramifications for both human and environmental health.
“When non-operators own farms, they tend to source out the oversight to management companies, leading in part to horrific conditions around labour and how we treat the land,” Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. watchdog group focusing on global large-scale land acquisitions, told IPS.
“They also reprioritise what commodities are grown on that land, based on what can yield the highest return. This is no longer necessarily about food at all, but rather is a way to reap financial profits. Unfortunately, that’s far removed from the central role that land ultimately plays in terms of climate change, growing hunger and the stability of the global economy.”
In a new report released Tuesday, the Oakland Institute tracks rising interest from some of the financial industry’s largest players. Citing information from Freedom of Information Act requests, the group says this includes bank subsidiaries (the Swiss UBS Agrivest), pension funds (the U.S. TIAA-CREF) and other private equity interests (such as HAIG, a subsidiary of Canada’s largest insurance group).
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Farmers’ Networks Urge Government Action Against Land Grabbing
By: Sabina Zaccaro Oct 12 2011
Civil society organisations and global farmers’ networks are gathered in Rome this week to ask governments to stop the “disastrous practice of land grabbing”, ahead of next week’s Committee on World Food Security.
From Oct. 11 to 14, the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is running intergovernmental negotiations on land governance.
After six years of negotiations involving governments, international organisations and civil society groups, this session is expected to adopt voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of land and other natural resources. These guidelines would protect and strengthen access to land, fisheries and forests for indigenous peoples and small-scale producers, especially women.
According to farmers’ organisations, the guidelines currently under negotiation could become an instrument “to keep financial speculation out of peoples’ lands, water and forests and to overcome a system of governance that facilitates the takeover of peoples’ natural resources by corporate investors and other powerful actors”.
Delegates from the global farmers’ network la Via Campesina, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty and the Italian Committee for Food Sovereignty are taking part in the negotiations.
The issue seems most crucial now that the global food and financial crises have made maintaining livelihoods impossible for farmers, their communities and small-scale producers unless their land is preserved.
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U.S. Codex & Codex Alimentarius
THE U.S. CODEX OFFICE
The U.S. Codex Office is an interagency partnership that engages stakeholders in the development and advancement of science-based food standards for the benefit of the United States and the worldwide community.
The U.S. Codex Office publishes a biweekly electronic newsletter highlighting activities in Codex. This includes outcomes of recent committee meetings and outreach events, deadlines for comments to Circular Letters and other documents, and registration information for new Electronic and Physical Working Groups. You may subscribe to receive email notification when a new issue has published.
Committees and Task Forces
The Codex Alimentarius Commission accomplishes its work through Committees hosted by member governments. Learn about each of the general subject committees, commodity committees, task forces, and regional coordinating committees.
Codex Delegation Reports
U.S. delegates to Codex Committees prepare reports of the Sessions.
Related Federal Register Notices
An annual Federal Register notice describes all Codex activities and Federal Register notices are prepared prior to public meetings.
Public meetings are held prior to Codex Committee sessions to inform those interested and take public comment on issues.
U.S. Codex Strategic Plan 2012-2017
Plan presents a shared vision and a clear strategy to guide the future of U.S. Codex.
Additional Codex Resources
Links to other agencies or international groups involved in Codex activities.
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION
More than 180 countries are members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Commission Meeting Schedule
Codex Committee meeting dates, locations and provisional agendas are posted on the Codex Alimentarius website.
All Codex texts are publicly available from the www.codex alimentarius.org website.
Codex Alimentarius: Population Control Under the Guise of Consumer Protection
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 by: Dr. Gregory Damato, Ph.D.
(NewsTarget) Codeath (sorry, I meant Codex) Alimentarius, latin for Food Code, is a very misunderstood organization that most people (including nearly all U.S. congressmen) have never heard of, never mind understand the true reality of this extremely powerful trade organization. From the official Codex website (www.codexalimentarius.net) the altruistic purpose of this commission is in “protecting health of the consumers and ensuring fair trade practices in the food trade, and promoting coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international governmental and non-governmental organizations”. Codex is a joint venture regulated by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).
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