ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Farms across the U.S. depend on seeds and pesticides made by a certain Swiss agricultural giant. Now China wants to buy the company. The U.S. government has held up the $43 billion deal to see if it presents a national security risk. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation corn and soybean farmer. He and his dad run a small farm about 30 miles from Topeka, Kan. Brunkow was a happy man when I caught up with him recently by phone.
GLENN BRUNKOW: It is beautiful here today. It's 80 degrees and sunny and light winds.
NORTHAM: Brunkow says for more than a decade they've been using seeds and chemicals from Syngenta. The Swiss company is a leader in pesticides and genetically modified seeds. A while back, Brunkow got a call from a seed seed dealer to tell him a Chinese state-owned company called China National Chemical Corporation or ChemChina is buying Syngenta. Brunkow says his seed dealer urged him not to worry.
BRUNKOW: Yeah, it was a little disconcerting to hear it the first time - just the idea of a foreign owned company, especially a Chinese owned company, coming in and purchasing, you know, that company that we rely so much on.
NORTHAM: The sale is part of a push by China to secure food supply for its 1.4 billion population, says Thilo Hanemann with the Rhodium Group, an economic research organization. Chinese agricultural productivity is low, and the scarce, arable land is often heavily polluted. Hanemann says China has not been very successful in nurturing its own genetically modified seed technology. Buying Syngenta will help.
THILO HANEMANN: It's about tapping the institutional expertise that lies within a company like Syngenta both in terms of R-and-D but also, perhaps more importantly, experts that are working there that have decades of experience in those fields.
NORTHAM: Syngenta may be a Swiss company, but it does more than a quarter of its business here in the U.S. A sale of this size and involving American agriculture has prompted a review by The Committee for Foreign Investment in the U.S., better known as CFIUS. It reviews whether such deals are a national security threat.
MICHAEL WESSEL: China is doing whatever it can to advance its interests legally and illegally, and it requires increased scrutiny of their operations.
NORTHAM: Michael Wessel is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission which monitors China for Congress. He says CFIUS will bring in the Department of Agriculture to study the implications for U.S. food security, and the Department of Defense will see if any of Syngenta's facilities in the U.S. are close to military bases.
WESSEL: It owns a number of agrichemical facilities here, some of them which make hazardous chemicals that are on the Department of Homeland Security's list of those that they should be concerned about in terms of, you know, state or nonstate actors who may engage in terrorist activities.
NORTHAM: Syngenta's chief operating officer, Davor Pisk, says it and ChemChina have voluntarily handed over pertinent information for the CFIUS review and that its operations will not change after it's sold.
DAVOR PISK: We are engaged in breeding activities for our seeds for production for the marketing and selling of those products. None of those we believe lead to national security consideration.
NORTHAM: For his part, Glenn Brunkow, the Kansas farmer, says he's read and thought about the Syngenta deal a lot. He says he's less apprehensive now that a full review is being done. Jackie Northam, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.