Confidence spurs meat exports

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Growing overseas markets look to U.S. meat products

By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

The U.S. is hurtling toward new annual records on the value of exports for beef, pork and lamb.

For the first nine months of the year, beef exports were 967,388 metric tons, valued at $4 billion, representing a 26 percent increase in volume and a 37 percent increase in value over last year, according to USDA.

Pork exports were more than 1.6 million metric tons, valued at nearly $4.4 billion, an increase of 16 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Lamb exports, while smaller in volume, were 14,301 metric tons, valued at $23.5 million, increases of 76 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

Beef is on track for a $5 billion year, which is exceptional as beef exports have only topped $4 billion in annual sales one time, said Jim Herlihy, vice president of communications for U.S. Meat Export federation.

Some of the growth in beef exports comes from rebuilding markets in Japan and South Korea, which took a nosedive after the finding of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow, in a U.S. cow in December 2003.

"It's a combination of things, but certainly confidence in U.S. beef is rebounding," he said. "We're getting back in front of those consumers and giving them an opportunity to get back on their plates."

Beef exports are up 34 percent to Japan for the first nine months of 2011, compared with the same period last year, and are up 45 percent to South Korea.

Japan or South Korea could overtake Mexico and Canada to become the No.1 market by the end of the year, Darrell Peel, Oklahoma State University extension livestock marketing specialist, said in his weekly Cow-Calf Corner newsletter.

Together, they represent 30.8 percent of U.S. beef exports, slightly lower than Mexico's and Canada's combined share of 35.7 percent, he said.

The BSE incident took a dramatic toll on exports to Japan and South Korea, which were in the top three value markets for U.S. beef. But exports are pushing record numbers even without those countries being in the top three markets now, Herlihy said.

The U.S. beef export industry is also diversifying, moving into new markets in the Middle East, with continued growth in Mexico and Canada, he said. Historically, the Middle East imported varietal meats, but with a growing tourist industry, demand for muscle cuts is growing, Herlihy said.

At the same time, the U.S. meat industry is finding greater appreciation in international markets for varietal meats and middle cuts in beef and hams and pork butts.

Such products don't have much of an audience in the U.S. and would go into the grinder for processed products. But their sale as exports adds value to the producer, he said.

The global economic recovery is helping all meat exports, and U.S. quality products are affordable and desirable. International consumers are partial to U.S. meat animals' grain-fed products, he said.

Recently passed free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama also have the potential to boost meat exports, with the greatest benefit in South Korea, he added.

Total U.S. Beef Exports

Year Volume Value

(metric tons) ($ billions)

2010 1,067,279 4.078

2009 897,376 3.082

2008 984,712 3.619

2007 771,196 2.617

2006 655,920 2.041

2005 472,668 1.365

2004 321,967 0.809

2003 1,274,098 3.856

2002 1,233,769 3.204

2001 1,273,173 3.405

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