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Bill to track foreign ownership of farmland introduced into U.S. Senate


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. 28.

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 committee.

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 legislation.”

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 traction.


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