published : 2023-09-25

GOP Bill to Safeguard US Agriculture from China Advances with Heavy Bipartisan Support

Legislation Aims to Empower Department of Agriculture in Determining National Security Threats

A photo of Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., speaking during a committee hearing on May 12, 2022. (Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

Republican legislation that would create additional federal safeguards to protect U.S. agriculture land from Chinese buyers overcame its latest hurdle by a substantial margin, putting it on track for a full floor vote.

The Agricultural Security Risk Review Act introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, was greenlighted during a House Financial Services Committee markup with unanimous support in a 42-0 vote last week.

Under Lucas' legislation, the secretary of the Department of Agriculture would be a full member of the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS). CFIUS is an interagency taskforce dating back to the 1970s that is overseen by the Department of the Treasury and tasked with reviewing certain foreign investments that may pose a national security threat.

In recent months, Republican lawmakers and local leaders nationwide have increased scrutiny on land purchases by foreign investors. The increasing number of land purchases has sparked concern that foreign companies and investors, particularly those from China, may be establishing a stranglehold of key U.S. food and energy supplies.

According to Department of Agriculture data, Chinese agricultural investment increased tenfold between 2009 and 2016 alone.

An aerial shot of farmland in the Midwest, symbolizing U.S. agriculture. (Taken with a DJI Phantom 4 Pro)

In addition, a subsidiary of Chinese green energy firm Gotion High-Tech purchased 270 acres of land, including some zoned for agriculture use, in Green Charter Township, Michigan, in August. The land is slated to be used to build an electric vehicle battery component factory, but is located within 60 miles of military armories and within 100 miles from Camp Grayling, the largest U.S. National Guard training facility in the country.

According to Lucas, his bill would ensure that CFIUS is better-equipped to reject agriculture transactions that threaten national security.

"Being a permanent member would allow us to educate the other members of CFIUS what to look for and what to be sensitive to when it comes to agriculture and agricultural production," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a House Agriculture Committee hearing earlier this year.

"The Chinese national government — or some people say the Chinese Communist Party — has been about acquiring all manner of assets, not just in the United States, but around the world, to control all sorts of resources," Lucas told Fox News Digital. "I would argue that, in addition to the importance of national security — the guns and the bullets and the planes and the resources to defend ourselves — if we cannot feed ourselves, then we are lost."

"I'm happy I finally got the attention of my colleagues in Congress. It's moving forward," the Oklahoma Republican added. "I wish people paid attention three or four years ago when I was trying to bring this to the top of the topic pile. But, at least now we're doing something."

A close-up image of Chinese currency, representing foreign investment in U.S. agriculture. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

In February, officials in Grand Forks, North Dakota, rejected a Chinese company's proposed corn mill that received significant local pushback over concerns about its proximity to a U.S. Air Force base in the area. While the company, Chinese-owned Fufeng Group, was able to purchase 300 acres of land in the area, the local government rejected its building permits, effectively killing the project.

Air Force Assistant Secretary Andrew Hunter said prior to the Grand Forks City Council decision that the project would pose a "significant threat" to national security, but that CFIUS concluded that it did not have jurisdiction in the case.

In addition, on Monday, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) lauded Lucas' bill, which it had endorsed.

"Cattle producers have been extremely watchful of foreign purchases of farmland, agricultural technology and other important inputs. Adding the Secretary of Agriculture to CFIUS would provide a critical voice for American farmers and ranchers and ensure that the federal government does not overlook agriculture's role in national security," said NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus.