Kristi Noem’s Controversial Decision

( – In a move to protect the state’s agricultural interests from foreign enemies, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem enacted legislation that bans companies from six nations, including China, from acquiring or renting farmland.

Although the law seeks to protect American soil from being used as a stepping stone for foreign nationals to spread their influence, the law includes a special exemption for Smithfield Foods.

Smithfield Foods is a major employer in the state, but its Chinese ownership is under the Hong Kong-based WH Group Limited, known for its connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Republican State Rep. James Wangsness, a chief advocate of the bill, explained that this exemption was crafted to specifically accommodate Smithfield and reflects the company’s significant role in the state’s economy and its relationship with local farmers.

He said that this exception was needed in order to prevent financial distress for local producers linked with Smithfield but recognized it indicates the challenges posed by foreign ownership of U.S. land.

Governor Noem had previously voiced concerns over the influence of Smithfield’s then-CEO, who followed directives from China while disregarding the welfare of South Dakotans.

She underscored national security concerns by highlighting the strategic importance of protecting land around Ellsworth Airforce Base from foreign acquisition, especially from China.

Smithfield’s operations in South Dakota mainly involve leasing hog production facilities from local farms. The law targets companies from China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

Although it prevents them from purchasing or leasing agricultural land, the law makes exceptions “exclusively for contract feeding of livestock, at an animal feeding operation, by a family farm unit, a family farm corporation, or an authorized farm corporation.”

The WH Group’s acquisition of Smithfield Foods has brought over 100,000 acres of U.S. land under its control. While not directly addressing the exemption for Smithfield in its response Governor Noem’s office restated Noem was committed to fighting foreign control over American farmland, especially from governments hostile to U.S. interests.

Smithfield’s connection to the CCP is noteworthy, with several executives and its chairman identified as CCP members. The company’s transition to Chinese ownership in 2013 and subsequent pork exports to China have raised concerns, including the potential for espionage, as highlighted by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.

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