Butchers expect little interest in grants

Independent butchers say they doubt many businesses will seek a USDA grant to get federal meat inspections.

U.S. meat exports, expected to approach $14 billion this year, have made advances in spite of sometimes overwhelming obstacles.

There is no lack of stubborn obstacles and new challenges, U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng told a media call Thursday morning from the organization’s strategic planning conference in Carlsbad, Calif.

The issue at hand is the “tsunami of meat” in the U.S., he said. “We have a tremendous challenge before us.”

Beef production is up 6 percent and pork production is up 10 percent over last year, he said.

But “from the export standpoint, we’re able to maintain our share of exports of U.S. production ... so we still look at this as an opportunity,” he said.

From January through August exports accounted for 13 percent of total beef production, roughly even with last year’s percentage. Export value per head of fed slaughter was $252.50, according to USMEF.

Despite a lot of anti-trade sentiment in the U.S., 95 percent of global consumers and 80 percent of the buying power is outside the U.S. and trade is a “very important component” of U.S. agriculture and the red meat industry, Seng said.

USMEF will continue to work on market-access barriers, but the challenges aren’t always overseas. The industry doesn’t need another occurrence of the West Coast port labor slowdown or any other interruption that calls into question the reliability of the U.S. as a supplier, he said.

Decreased global trade is another concern — illustrated by the Hanjin bankruptcy, caused by overcapacity in the shipping industry. Global trade is down for the first time since World War II.

But the fact that U.S. meat exports are up defies the trend, and the U.S. is making sizable inroads, he said.

U.S. beef exports were up 28 percent to South Korea and 16 percent to Japan through August, and pork exports to China were up 94 percent, according to USMEF.

“The commitment of the industry to these international markets is finally paying dividends,” he said.

U.S. beef is starting to claw back in Asia and is in a much stronger competitive position than it was a couple of years ago, said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific region.

That’s mostly due to low cattle and beef export supplies in Australia and rising prices on Australian beef, he said.

Asia remains a battlefield for pork, due to the EU’s market share and competitive prices, especially for frozen meat. But the U.S. is making great progress on the chilled side, he said.

The picture is improving in Mexico, where beef exports were up 8 percent through August and the near term looks positive, said Chad Russell, USMEF regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic.

Demand should return due to years of pent-up demand fueled by the recession and devaluing of the peso, he said.

U.S. pork exports to Mexico are down 6 percent through August, the first negative period since 2011. But that market through the rest of the year should be strong because China will be taking less U.S. product, making more available for Mexico, he said.

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