Now those lessons are earning some significant rewards. Trade figures for 2011 showed beef exports setting a record mark with 1.287 million metric tons of beef shipped, worth a total value of $5.42 billion.

A good chunk of that came from Japan, which imported 158,646 metric tons from the U.S., worth $874 million, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Still, that’s nowhere near the trade levels U.S. beef enjoyed to Japan before BSE.

So what’s changed and enabled the U.S. beef industry to turn a corner while waiting for Japan?

One critical factor was the ability to diversify in the aftershocks of the BSE scare. The U.S. not only worked quickly to stabilize routes to Mexico and Canada, it also targeted Europe and other ties in the Pacific.

USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng said the key was to promote new cuts with the excess supply that would sell to respective countries.


“Now, as markets open up, we aren’t just going with traditional but also the new,” he said. “This adds market share on the product we export.”

That strategy is working today with the expanded Asian market as well as surging interest in the Middle East.

But Seng also noted other realities that were somewhat more strenuous, and required a bit more nuance.

Trade leaders discovered “you just can’t demand or treat an issue in these countries such as food safety and purport them to be a trade issue.”

In other words, U.S. trade negotiations require a more flexible approach in today’s global economy. Rather than polarize the discussion by ignoring science and cultural limitations, trade officials now arm themselves with the data that can make the case for a product that fits a more distinct need.

“We have to be somewhat cognizant that every market is different in its rule,” Seng added. Initially, many U.S. producers thought Japan and restrictive markets simply couldn’t manage without U.S. beef after BSE. But their consumer trends eventually shifted.

Mark Gustafson, vice president of International Sales for JBS Swift, put it another way at the International Livestock Congress in January.

Often times, government policy, hormone bans, or currencies are out of your control with trade. “But commercially, we can control respect, tact, service and on-time delivery.”

Those trade principles worked over the years to re-establish the quality and safety of U.S. beef, making it as popular as ever in the global market.  end_mark



David Cooper
Progressive Cattleman Editor