‘Threat to food security’ — US lawmakers seek to curb Chinese ownership of American farmland

US lawmakers have been seeking to limit Chinese purchases of American farmland amid fears that such ownership could 'lead to the creation of a Chinese-owned agricultural monopoly'.

California agriculture
Representational image | Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: In recent weeks, several US politicians — from former Vice President Mike Pence to Senator and former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren — have made calls to restrict China’s purchases of American farmland.

In an op-ed for Washington DC-based think tank Heritage Foundation two weeks ago, Pence wrote: “America cannot allow China to control our food supply. The president and the congress should end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals. Likewise, we should prohibit Chinese investment in critical US infrastructure projects like pipelines and power plants.”

Since July, US lawmakers have been seeking to limit Chinese purchases of American farmland amid fears that such ownership could pose a threat to the US food supply chain.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, Chinese investors controlled about 192,000 acres of US farmland worth $1.9 billion at the start of 2020.

On 1 July, the House Appropriations Committee — which is responsible for regulating government expenditures along with its Senate counterpart —approved the fiscal year 2022 agriculture appropriations bill with some amendments. One of the amendments included forbidding the ownership of farmland by the Chinese government and its subsidiaries.

The amendment was introduced by House Representative Dan Newhouse in June. It seeks to not only bar Chinese companies from owning more farmland than they already own but also make those holdings ineligible for US farm subsidies.

“In recent years, the Chinese government has been buying up US agricultural assets. Allowing this practice to continue would lead to the creation of a Chinese-owned agricultural monopoly and pose an immediate threat to U.S. national security and food security,” said Newhouse while introducing the measure. “The US cannot become dependent on China for our domestic agriculture and food supply.”

The amendment is expected to be deliberated in the House of Representatives as part of a larger spending bill in upcoming days, though the Senate has not yet drafted its own version of the spending bill.

Chinese investors currently own ‘small percentage’ of US farmland

Currently, the Chinese threat to US food security appears to be minimal. A Politico report points out that the 192,000 acres owned by Chinese investors is a “small percentage” of the nearly 900 million acres of total American farmland. It is also less than the 35 million acres owned by Canadians, Europeans and other foreigners.

However, there are fears surrounding how Chinese firms have expanded their presence in American agriculture over the last decade.

According to a 2018 report from the US Department of Agriculture, Chinese investment in the agricultural sector has grown tenfold in the last 10 years through ownership of farmland and purchasing of major agribusinesses, like pork processing.


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