Maggots, bacteria allegedly plagued China's number one meat brand

A Chinese customer selects pieces of pork, supplied by Shuanghui, which controls the country's largest meat-processing company in May 2013. China's Shuanghui International moved to buy US meats icon Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion this week.

Story highlights

  • China's biggest meat brand, Shuanghui, has tainted food history since 2011
  • Poison, maggots, bacteria allegedly in company products, say Chinese state-run media
  • Shuanghui bid to acquire U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, world's largest pork processor
  • USDA confirms to CNN it will still regulate Smithfield products if merger successful

Allegations of maggots, excessive bacteria and illegal additives have plagued China's biggest meat products company, Shuanghui International, since at least 2011, according to a series of reports by China's state-run media. On Wednesday, the Hong Kong-headquartered Shuanghui announced its intent to buy U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, the world's largest processor of pork, for nearly $5 billion.

In June 2012, a woman in Beijing allegedly found several dead maggots inside a package of Shuanghui sausages bought at a supermarket. Her daughters, who ate the sausages before the discovery, reportedly suffered from vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Global Times, an English-language newspaper under the Chinese-language People's Daily.

In May 2012, industrial authorities in China's southern coastal city of Guangzhou reported Shuanghui's cumin-flavored sausages contained "excessive" bacteria, which could cause diarrhea, reported the Shanghai Daily.

And in March 2011, China Central Television reported a Shuanghui International subsidiary bought pigs that had been fed with meal containing clenbuterol. The illegal additive keeps the animals lean but can kill people if eaten. Shuanghai's chairman later apologized to consumers and announced nearly $2 billion in losses two weeks after the revelations.

CNN contacted Shuanghui International for comment on its food safety record. The company directed all questions to its public relations firm which refused to provide any comment, besides a press release.

    Just Watched

    Why were dead pigs floating in river?

Why were dead pigs floating in river? 01:28
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Dead pigs found floating in river

Dead pigs found floating in river 00:52
PLAY VIDEO

    Just Watched

    Why are ducks dying in China?

Why are ducks dying in China? 00:56
PLAY VIDEO

"All consumers in the United States can continue to enjoy the high quality of safe pork products from Smithfield," said Shuanghui in its statement.

Still, the Chinese firm's attempts to assure continued quality failed to calm all criticism.

    "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," said U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who held a key role in drafting the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, in a written statement on her professional website.

    "This merger (between Shuanghui and Smithfield) may only make it more difficult to protect the food supply. I have deep doubts about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first."

    Major food scandals in China over the past several years have raised concerns both domestically and abroad.

    In 2008, more than 13,000 children fell ill after drinking melamine-tainted milk. In 2011, Chinese government scientists revealed that 12 million tons of rice had been tainted with toxic metals. In the intervening years, other food safety issues have included fake beef made from fox and rat as well as exploding watermelons injected with growth hormones.

    "Indeed, there are many food scandals that took place in China, but I wouldn't make a judgment of the Chinese pork market based on past individual cases," said Chinese food expert and Renmin University Professor Zheng Fengtian. "If (Shuanghui) kept having problems, its business wouldn't have lasted this long."

    He added the proposed merger is a win-win situation despite China's food scares and that the United States should avoid actions that slow down the acquisition.

    In a statement, Shuanghui International promised to maintain the same operation, management and brand of Smithfield after completion of the deal. The company said it will also continue cooperation with the same American producers, food suppliers and farmers.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture also confirmed to CNN that the "FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) will continue to regulate Smithfield products regardless of a change in ownership."

    China is the world's largest producer and consumer of pork products -- titles it will likely retain if Shuanghui 's acquisition of Smithfield succeeds and if the world's most populous nation continues its love of pork.

    Between 2002 and 2012, following growing wealth in the country, China's per capita pork consumption jumped by nearly a quarter to 86 pounds of pig products last year. American demand fell 12% over the same time.

        CNN Business

      • An Iraqi worker adjusts a control valve at the Daura oil refinery on November 5, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq and a grouping of U.S and European oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC signed a $50 billion contract today to develop the West Qurna oilfield, two days after the Iraqi South Oil Company signed a technical service contract with Britain's BP and China's CNPC to develop the Rumaila oilfield. The Iraqi government is trying to attract foreign investment, especially in the oil sector, in hopes of reviving its war-torn economy. Iraq has the third largest oil reserve in the world but it is producing way below its potential. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)

        Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
      • A view of gloves and boots used by medical staff, drying in the sun, at a center for victims of the Ebola virus in Guekedou, on April 1, 2014. The viral haemorrhagic fever epidemic raging in Guinea is caused by several viruses which have similar symptoms -- the deadliest and most feared of which is Ebola. AFP PHOTO / SEYLLOU (Photo credit should read SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

        The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
      • People enter a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 18, 2009. Las Vegas is the most populus city in the US state of Nevada and internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, fine dining and entertainment. Las Vegas which bills itself as the �Entertainment Capital of the World� is famous for the number of casino resorts and associated entertainment. AFP PHOTO/Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

        Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
      • spc marketplace middle east ata atmar a_00010015.jpg

        Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
      • Vantablack designed by Surrey NanoSystems absorbs 99.96% of all light. It however will not be the solution to the creating the world's ultimate slimming black dress! A dress made out of this material would render the curves and contours of the human body invisible and would leave the wearer looking like 'two dimensional cardboard cut-out.'

        A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
      • Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
      • A picture taken on March 15, 2014 shows children playing at the sprawling desert Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan near the border with Syria which provides shelter to around 100,000 Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees in the seven-square-kilometre (2.8-square-mile) Zaatari camp in Jordan fear that President Bashar al-Assad's likely re-election this year will leave their dream of a return home as distant as ever. The brutal war in Syria between the regime and its foes shows no sign of abating and has killed at least 146,000 people since it erupted in mid-March 2011. And 2.5 million Syrians have fled abroad and another 6.5 million have been internally displaced. Jordan is home to more than 500,000 of the refugees.

        Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
      • SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 18: Queen Elizabeth II wears 3 D glasses to watch a display and pilot a JCB digger, during a visit to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research centre, on November 18, 2010 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by John Giles - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

        At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
      • An Iraqi worker adjusts a control valve at the Daura oil refinery on November 5, 2009 in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq and a grouping of U.S and European oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Royal Dutch Shell PLC signed a $50 billion contract today to develop the West Qurna oilfield, two days after the Iraqi South Oil Company signed a technical service contract with Britain's BP and China's CNPC to develop the Rumaila oilfield. The Iraqi government is trying to attract foreign investment, especially in the oil sector, in hopes of reviving its war-torn economy. Iraq has the third largest oil reserve in the world but it is producing way below its potential. (Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)

        Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
      • Valves of gas pipe-line are seen in the gas station not far from Kiev on March 4, 2014. The European Union will help Ukraine pay the $2.0 billion it owes to Russian gas giant Gazprom, a top official said Tuesday, as part of an aid package reportedly worth more than one billion euros. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREY SINITSIN (Photo credit should read ANDREY SINITSIN/AFP/Getty Images)

        The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.