Pending Chinese Acquisition of Smithfield Foods Raises Questions About Heparin Safety

July 24, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – House Energy and Commerce leaders from the Health and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittees today sent a letter to the President and Chief Executive Office of Smithfield Foods, Inc., C. Larry Pope, requesting information regarding the pending acquisition of the company by Shuanghui International Holdings, Ltd., with questions spurred by the committee’s ongoing heparin contamination investigation, which dates back to 2008. The pending acquisition of Smithfield Foods raises new concerns regarding the supply of heparin in both the United States and China and the potential threat of contamination. The letter was signed by Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton (R-TX), full committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA), Subcommittee on Health Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA), and Vice Chairman of the Health and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittees Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX).

The committee leaders write, “The contamination of the U.S. heparin supply has been linked by the FDA and other authorities to intentional adulteration during the manufacture of heparin in China. … The committee’s investigation indicates that the U.S. heparin supply is stressed, and could well be in shortage. China’s heparin market is experiencing its own pressures, and Smithfield Foods under Shuanghui control may be pressured to export its crude heparin product to China instead of supplying U.S. companies. The impact of this pending acquisition on the availability of U.S. heparin is critical. Heparin is still widely used for heart surgery and dialysis patients. …

“Because the contamination case was never adequately addressed by Chinese authorities, at least some of the bad actors responsible for the adulteration presumably are still operating in the Chinese heparin business, and there is little deterrence against, but high economic gain for, new heparin-contamination schemes especially where there is inadequate traceability…"

The members concluded, “We are further troubled by the linkage of Shuanghui International Holdings to the clenbuterol scandal… clenbuterol was found after 18 outbreaks of food-related clenbuterol poisoning during 1998-2007, and after the Chinese Agriculture Department banned the use of clenbuterol in 1997. The fact that the business practices under Shuanghui International control led to such contamination heightens our concerns of how Smithfield Foods will be able to maintain the safety of its heparin products should distribution of crude heparin be maintained in the U.S.”

The committee leaders are seeking responses to the questions raised in the letter by August 7, 2013.

Read the complete letter online here.

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