Montana is a cowboy state. Full of dramatic, pristine landscapes and seemingly endless open space, its residents point proudly to the fact that the ultra-rural state has more cows than people. Cattle have long been grazed in the high elevation sagebrush grasslands, which are known to provide the animals with more protein than other grasses. But these days, aside from a few high-profile grassfed beef producers, the vast majority of the state’s cattle get shipped to feedlots in the Midwest, where they get fattened on grains, slaughtered, and sold into the conventional market.
Now, big changes are afoot. In November, the owners of JD.com—a Chinese shopping website that sells everything from diapers to vacuum cleaners, as well as fresh food—signed an agreement to spend up to $100 million to build Montana’s largest meat processing facility. The commitment was part of a deal the mega-retailer made with the Montana Stockgrowers Association to buy $200 million worth of beef from the state. The move is part of a much larger push by Chinese companies to buy into the U.S. animal agriculture industry, as the middle class there grows increasingly interested in what they see as a safer, higher-quality source of food. Demand from China is also driving growth in the dairy, poultry, and pork sectors throughout the U.S.
Increasing Montana’s meat processing capacity would bring in hundreds of jobs and keep more of the money from cattle production in Montana, say advocates for the project.
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