WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill intended to
crack down on foreign ownership of American farmland and
agricultural firms was introduced in the U.S. Senate Oct.
The bill, called the Food Security is
National Security Act of 2021, would give top U.S. food and
agriculture officials, including USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack,
a permanent voice on the Committee on Foreign Investment, an
interagency committee tasked with reviewing proposed mergers
and acquisitions by foreign companies. The committee
includes representatives from 16 U.S. departments, including
Defense, State and Commerce.
The bill would also require the
committee to consider new food and agriculture-related
criteria when reviewing transactions that could result in
foreign control of U.S. businesses.
The bipartisan bill was introduced by
Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., along
with Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and
Jon Tester, D-Mont.
The legislation was prompted by
concerns over foreign investments in American farmland. In
recent decades, according to a USDA database, foreign
investors have bought more than 35 million acres of U.S.
farmland worth $62 billion — about 2.7% of all privately
held land nationwide, an area larger than New York state.
“As foreign entities continue their
acquisitions of U.S. food and agriculture companies,
American farmers and families deserve to know these
transactions receive proper scrutiny,” said Senate
Agriculture Chair Stabenow.
The purpose of this bill, according to
Tester, is to ensure “foreign investments in American
agriculture are thoroughly vetted so we can protect our
producers and consumers.”
The bill would make two major changes
to the way foreign purchases are tracked.
First, it would require the Committee
on Foreign Investment to take agriculture-related concerns,
including food security and availability, into consideration
when evaluating foreign investments.
Second, the bill would put the U.S.
Secretary of Agriculture and U.S. Secretary of Health and
Human Services on the Committee on Foreign Investment.
In a statement, Grassley said it’s
important to have agricultural interests represented on the
Several farm groups came out in
support of the bill, with leaders saying they supported
Vilsack’s inclusion on the committee.
“Monitoring and evaluating mergers and
acquisitions, as well as who contributes to our food
production and distribution, is critical. The Secretary of
Agriculture understands that, and he would bring a
much-needed perspective to the Committee on Foreign
Investment in the United States,” Zippy Duvall, president of
the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement.
Rob Larew, president of the National
Farmers Union, called the volume of foreign investments in
the past decade “alarming” and said his organization
appreciates the introduction of this “commonsense
This isn’t the bill’s first time up to
bat, however. According to Congressional archives, in 2017,
Grassley and co-sponsors introduced the exact same bill as
the Food Security is National Security Act of 2017. That
bill never made it to a vote, which advocates say may be
because foreign investment wasn’t considered a top priority
at the time.
The bill’s sponsors, along with farm
groups, say they’re hopeful the 2021 edition will get
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