Great Falls residents work to put brakes on meat plant
May 17, 2018
Smell, water pollution and traffic are the big three concerns for a group of citizens in Great Falls, Mont., fighting the proposed 3,000-acre Madison Food Park packing plant.
During a recent standing room only meeting at the local Civic Center, the group Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens, brought in three guest speakers to discuss environmental and economic concerns. Organizers did not include any representatives from Friesen Foods, the developer of the Madison Food Park.
Terry Spence, a consultant with Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, John Ikerd, a scholar and author on economics and agriculture and Donald Stull, author of Slaughterhouse Blues, were the three guest speakers.
"Folks this is not rural economic development, this is rural economic desecration," Ikerd said. Ikerd is a former professor of agriculture economics at the University of Missouri
Madison Food Park spokesman Todd Hanson responded to the event with a statement.
"Madison Food Park encourages the free and open expression of alternative points of view, perspectives and independent analysis of what is Montana's most promising agricultural business development project in the past 50 years. We support civil discourse, the respectful exchange of ideas and opinions and unfettered discussion that is conducted in a positive and productive manner free of intimidation, cyber-bullying, harassment and threatening actions."
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Friesen purchased over 3,000 acres, 8.3 miles southeast of Great Falls, and announced plans in October of building the packing plant, and creating over 3,000 jobs in the community, making it the largest employer in the area. The project will include a processing plant for cattle, pigs, and chickens, and the related further processing facilities for beef, pork and poultry.
As proposed, the Madison Food Park at full capacity would employ upward of 3,000 people, processing as many as 1.2 million hogs, 7.2 million chickens and 200,000 cattle in a given production year.
It will also eventually incorporate the processing of milk, supplied by local and regional dairy producers into a variety of cheese products; and a distillery which will source the grain necessary for the production of Montana-branded spirits from cereal crops grown in the region.
In August of 2017, Friesen applied for a special use permit with Cascade County. The company said its Madison Food Park would be a "state-of-the art, robotically controlled, environmentally friendly, multi-species food processing plant for cattle, pigs and chicken."
An injunction request was opened in March, seeking to rewrite restrictions for a Cascade County panel over the controversial packing plant project. Judge Olivia Reiger will hear the case. Cascade County officials postponed the appointment of a vacant position on the Zoning Board of Adjustments following the injunction request. According to reports, the board will have exclusive power and authority to independently hear and decide special use permits, like the one expected from the upcoming Madison Food Park project.
Currently, the county's restrictions on applications prohibit anyone living inside any city in the county to apply for the board, as well as anyone within a seven-mile radius of the proposed Madison Food Park project.
While the Madison Food Park project is having its battle, another processing plant in the discussion phase is also potentially on the chopping block with the China tariff war discussions.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation said China's potential plans to add tariffs on 128 products, including pork and beef, in response to the U.S. imposing higher tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China, is a concern for producers.
Dan Halstrom president and CEO of USMEF said in a statement that, "over the past nine months, interest in U.S. beef has steadily gained momentum in China and our customer base has grown. But if an additional import tariff is imposed on U.S. beef, these constructive business relationships, and opportunities for further growth, will be put at risk. USMEF is hopeful that this trade dispute can be resolved without China introducing additional obstacles for U.S. beef."
In 2017, U.S. exported 495,637 metric tons (mt) of pork and pork variety meat to China/Hong Kong, valued at $1.08 billion — the second-largest international market by volume and third-largest by value.
"We are hopeful that the additional duties can be rescinded quickly, so that U.S. pork can again compete on a level playing field with pork from other exporting countries," Halstrom said.
Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute, also shared his concerns.
"We are extremely alarmed about rapidly escalating trade tensions occurring between the U.S. and China," Carpenter said. "The U.S. meat industry urges both governments to engage expeditiously in a constructive dialogue aimed at resolving issues before additional tariffs take effect. There are no winners in trade disputes and the stakes are particularly high in the current situation. American agriculture and our meat sector in particular stand to suffer each day this tension continues."
The $200 million Montana beef sale to China deal, with a $100 million investment in a Montana meat packing plant, could be at risk, according to analysts. Miles City rancher Fred Wacker and the Montana Stockgrowers have a memorandum of understanding with online Chinese retailer JD.com. The partners had hoped to ship as many as 80,000 butchered cattle to China over the next three years. A 25 percent tariff could complicate the agreement.
-Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beulah, Wyo. When she's not writing, she's riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at email@example.com.