House Republicans call on GAO to investigate foreign ownership of US farmland

House Republicans call on GAO to investigate foreign ownership of US farmland
House Republicans call on GAO to investigate foreign ownership of US farmland

WASHINGTON — Top Republicans on the House Agriculture and Oversight Committees have called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate foreign investment in U.S. farmland, questioning whether Chinese acquisitions in particular could pose a threat to national security.

In a letter released Monday, Reps. Glenn Thompson (R., Pa.) and James Comer (R., Ky.), along with more than 100 other House Republicans, asked the GAO to conduct a study examining the acquisition by foreign countries from America’s farmland and its impact on national security, trade, and food security.

“China’s possession of US farmland is a threat to our food security and national security,” Comer said in a statement. “Americans need transparency about the federal government’s efforts to address this growing problem.”

Democrats have also expressed some concerns about foreign investment in US farmland. House Democrats have backed a measure to prevent the purchase of US farmland by companies owned by China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as part of the ongoing negotiations on the government funding.

Canadian investors hold the largest share of U.S. farmland held by foreigners, at 32%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Investors from the Netherlands, Italy, the UK and Germany collectively own an additional 31% of US acres owned by foreigners. Foreign investors held a total of about 37.6 million acres, or less than 3% of all private farmland, according to the latest report, which runs through the end of 2020.

Even though China held just under 1% of acres owned by foreigners, analysts and lawmakers have raised concerns that China’s need for more arable land and its search for new ways to nurture its population are pushing the country to expand its American holdings, through both legal and illicit means.

In recent years, several Chinese citizens have pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal or steal parts of American agricultural technology, including trade secrets from agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. and high-tech corn seeds from American agricultural fields.

When it comes to agricultural equipment, livestock and intellectual property, “the United States is a world leader in all of these areas, making it a top trading partner and often a target of China’s efforts to strengthen its agricultural sector and its food security, sometimes through illicit means,” according to a May staff research report of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a commission of security and economics experts convened by Congress.

Representative James Comer of Kentucky is one of the House Republicans to ask the Government Accountability Office for an investigation.

Rod Lamkey/CNP/Zuma Press

In their letter to the GAO, House Republicans raised concerns about a Fufeng Group plan ltd.

, based in Shandong, China, to build a new wet corn mill near an air force base. The company announced last November that it had selected approximately 370 acres in Grand Forks, ND, for a plant to produce animal feed ingredients. The city of Grand Forks said in early September that the Treasury-run Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, had asked the company for more information.

“National security concerns, including a Chinese company’s purchase of farmland in North Dakota near an Air Force base that houses top-secret drone technology, raise fears of the foreign ownership of US farmland,” House Republicans wrote to the GAO.

Eric Chutorash, chief operating officer of Fufeng’s U.S. subsidiary, told the Grand Forks Herald in March that the corn mill would not be asked to collect intelligence on the Air Force base.

Last month, President Biden ordered Cfius, which screens foreign investment for national security risks, to step up scrutiny of deals that could give China and other adversaries access to critical technologies or jeopardize supply chains.

The Department of Agriculture requires foreign investors to report their purchases of U.S. farmland, but lawmakers and others have raised questions about the accuracy of the data and the USDA’s ability to track changes in subsequent land use.

Write to Kristina Peterson at [email protected]

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