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More U.S. senators concerned by Shuanghui-Smithfield deal

A painted pig stands on the lawn of Smithfield Foods executive offices in Smithfield, Virginia May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Rich-Joseph Facun
A painted pig stands on the lawn of Smithfield Foods executive offices in Smithfield, Virginia May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Rich-Joseph Facun

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More U.S. senators on Friday raised concerns about a Chinese company's plan to buy U.S. pork company Smithfield Foods Inc , particularly in light of restrictions that China continues to place on imports of U.S. meat.

"This review must be thorough and take into account the full range of national security interests," the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said in a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

"In particular, we urge that due consideration be given to the impact of the transaction on food safety in the United States," added Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and the committee's chairman, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

That echoed a demand made on Thursday by 15 of the 20 members of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Chinese meat company Shuanghui International hopes to buy Smithfield, the world's largest pork producer and processor, for $4.7 billion in what would be the biggest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm.

The companies, out of what lawyers said was "an abundance of caution," filed the proposed deal with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) which reviews foreign investment for any potential threat to national security.

Many CFIUS experts believe it is unlikely the Obama administration will decide that Chinese investment in the U.S. food sector is a national security threat.

"I think the Chinese will bring home the bacon," said Timothy Keeler, a former U.S. Treasury and trade official who now advises companies with deals that go before CFIUS.

In a statement on Thursday, Smithfield said it welcomed a full review of the deal and would continue to cooperate with the administration and Congress in that effort.

"We believe the proposed combination does not present any national security concerns, is good for U.S. farmers and agriculture and will advance U.S.-China relations," a spokeswoman for Smithfield said.

Baucus and Hatch said the proposed sale threw a spotlight on longtime Chinese restrictions on U.S. meat, and urged the Obama administration to aggressively push back on those measures.

"The purchase of Smithfield - the largest pork producer in the world - is difficult to square with China's restrictive policies that effectively ban U.S. pork," the senators said.

China currently bans imports of pork containing any residue of ractopamine, a feed additive used widely in the United States with backing from the Codex Alimentarius, the international food safety standards body.

It also blocks imports of almost all U.S. beef because of mad cow disease concerns, despite a finding by the World Animal Health Organization that U.S. beef is safe.

"As a result, while Chinese meat producers are free to bid on U.S. companies accounting for a significant share of U.S. pork production, our producers remain shut out of the important Chinese market," the senators said.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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