PERISHABLES: MEAT, POULTRY & SEAFOOD - Beef, pork producers profit from exports

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): International Trade  

Experts project sustained growthBy Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOTThe discovery of a case of mad cow disease in the United States herd in early March could not have been good news for beef exporters. In late 2005, Japan partially reopened its doors to US beef imports after a nearly three year ban thanks to the last discovered mad cow case.
But that reprieve was to be short lived. In January, Japan slammed the gate shut again after discovering some spinal material, thought to be risky in the spread of mad cow, in a shipment of veal. While US and Japanese officials engage in talks to resolve these concerns, the discovery of another case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”) could dampen US hopes of regaining a significant share of the Japanese beef market. Japan once an importer of one billion pounds of US beef annually.
US exporters try to put the best face on the situation by hoping the impasse will soon be resolved and that predictions of sharply increased beef exports will bear fruit. Meanwhile, pork exports have gained ground at the expense of beef in recent years, thanks to the health concerns posed by mad cow. While analysts say pork exports may level off as US beef regains international popularity, this scenario may well depend on how the US-Japan situation is resolved. The continued expansion of beef exports to other markets through free trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia may also depend on the resolution of the latest mad cow scare.
“US beef exports to North American trading partners were approaching normal levels by the fourth quarter of 2005,” says Scott Brown, research assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources. “Success in resuming normal trade flows has not been as easy in other markets, due both to continuing total bans and bans on specific beef products. It could take quite some time before total US beef exports are able to achieve levels experienced from 1999 to 2003.”
While exports to Japan dropped from one billion pounds of beef a year to zero, he notes, Mexico is importing over 400,000 pounds of US beef per year, a level Brown expects to grow. Korea, which once imported 600 million pounds a year, recently reopened its markets to US beef, but Brown wonders whether the Koreans will be tempted to follow Japan’s lead and re-impose restrictions in the light of the latest developments.
US beef interests, of course, are doing everything to tout the safety of US beef. “The US Department of Agriculture has confirmed this animal did not enter the human food or animal feed supply,” says Terry Stokes, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, referring to the most recent discovery of BSE. “US cattle producers do not anticipate this announcement to have an impact on our relationship with our international trading partners. The United States will continue to engage in trade that is consistent with the international standards outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health and we expect countries that trade with us to do the same.”
Stokes notes that the USDA implemented a BSE surveillance program over two years ago and has found that the prevalence of the disease in the United States is extremely low. In fact, a recently released United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization study shows that cases of BSE have been dropping by 50% per year over the past three years. In 2005, 474 animals died of BSE worldwide as compared to 878 in 2004 and 1646 in 2003, the study revealed. “It is quite clear that BSE is declining and that the measures introduced to stop the disease are effective,” says Andrew Speedy, an FAO animal production expert. Vital to further success in the eradication of BSE, according to Speedy, is the implementation of a tracking system on a worldwide basis that would allow animals to be identified from birth to shopping basket. Such a system is currently in use in Europe.
Beef exports to Japan and avian influenza remain wildcards in international meat ma

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Peter Buxbaum has been writing about international trade and transportation, as well as security, defense, technology, and foreign policy, for over 20 years. Besides contributing to the AJOT, Buxbaum's work has appeared in such leading publications as [em]Fortune, Forbes, Chief Executive, Computerworld, and Jane's Defence Weekly[/em]. He was educated at Columbia University.