Demand for American grain-fed beef is growing in China

Brown cow with ear tag looks into camera
Cow at US farm, photo: jjMiller11 via Canva

China is switching from Australian beef to American beef, as the demand for meat is growing in the Chinese middle class.

Even though the plant-based industry is growing in Asia, young people still like meat a lot. “Young people like meat, especially 20- and 30-year-olds who come here on dates,” said Glen Feng, manager of the Beijing locations of the New York chain Wolfgang’s Steakhouse.

The steakhouse opened another restaurant in the southern city of Shenzhen this year and has plans for a fourth in Hangzhou.

Hotpot restaurants, Japanese barbecue chains and steakhouses are all expanding in China, the world’s number 2 economy.

China’s middle class spent $7.3 trillion in 2020, more than any other country’s, according to a report by U.S. research group Brookings, and is still growing, with young people accounting for more spending than in other countries.

Beef imports from the United States have grown to 83,000 tonnes in the first eight months of 2021, nine times the amount in the same period a year ago, according to Chinese customs data.

Grain-fed beef
The meat that’s imported from the U.S. is grain-fed beef, where the cows are placed in pens and fed a diet of soy and corn-based grains. They are also given drugs, hormones and antibiotics to make them grow faster.

Grain-fed cows are killed between 1-2 years old. In the wild, a cow can live up to 26 years old.

Australia was the top exporter of grain-fed beef to China, but due to deteriorating relations between Beijing and Canberra, the United Stated is now the main supplier of grain-fed beef.

Grain-fed beef is more popular than grass-fed beef with the Chinese middle class. Grass-fed beef typically goes to cheaper channels in China, such as mass-market restaurants and supermarkets.

China gets its grass-fed beef comes from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Zhong Dingming, the manager of Jingli hotpot restaurant in Beijing, told Reuters he buys imported beef from the American company Tyson Foods.

In last year’s phase one trade deal between Beijing and Washington, China agreed that U.S. approved slaughterhouses could access its market without Chinese inspections.

The number of meat processing facilities allowed to ship to China has jumped to more than 500.

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