The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) today underscored the importance of meat companies continuing to export during the COVID-19 pandemic, explaining the supply/demand dynamics at play in the protein industry and how exports benefit U.S. farmers. In the current environment, the importance of meat exports is heightened as U.S. agriculture works to preserve and enhance market share for the post-pandemic period when America’s farmers will need international customers more than ever as they recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.
The U.S. has plentiful livestock supplies, which translates into far more meat than is consumed by Americans. Because of this, most U.S. meat processors routinely export some of their production to a diverse set of international markets. Despite recent interruptions, red meat production in 2020 is expected to exceed last year’s large volume, so not only do we have enough meat to feed Americans, but also customers throughout the world. This is a win-win for our nation’s farmers who are dependent on healthy export markets and robust trade with other countries. Exports benefit American farmers, create jobs and reduce the U.S. global trade deficit.
While the United States is a major red meat exporter, about 85% of our beef production and 70 to 75% of pork production is consumed in the domestic market. The portion that is exported leans heavily toward variety meat items that attract little or no interest from domestic consumers and underutilized muscle cuts for which domestic demand is lacking.
For example, beef tongue exports to Japan equate to about $12 per head of U.S. fed cattle. Beef tripe exports to Mexico were worth $112 million last year – an increase of 30% over 2018 – while total beef variety meat exports to Mexico were worth $277 million, up 21%. Nearly all of U.S. beef livers are exported, to markets such as Egypt, South Africa, Mexico and Southeast Asia. USMEF is also building demand in South America, promoting beef livers as an excellent source of iron in Peru and Colombia.
On the pork side, variety meat exports topped $1 billion in each of the past two years. That’s $1 billion in revenue derived from feet, ears, snouts and organs that would generate very little value in the domestic market. The U.S. industry also exports large volumes of picnics, hams and other muscle cuts that are much less popular with U.S. consumers than items such as bellies and ribs, which are mostly consumed domestically.It is also important to keep in mind that when 85% of our beef and 70 to 75% of our pork is consumed at home, this represents the lion’s share of record-large production. The U.S. beef and pork industries reached this level of production by serving a robust domestic market, complemented by strong international demand for specific products. This is an important balance that is critical to the profitability and viability of the entire U.S. supply chain.