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US imports record amount of beef

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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Southern Manitoba
U.S. relies on world to meet beef demand
this document web posted: Wednesday February 16, 2005 20050217p62

By Barbara Duckworth
Calgary bureau

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - In a year when BSE confined U.S. beef to its own borders, it still imported record amounts of meat.

The United States imported 3.65 billion pounds of beef in 2004 when normal imports are closer to 3.1 billion lb.

The imports filled a gap because American production did not meet its domestic needs, Cattlefax analysts told the National Cattlemen's Beef Association meeting in San Antonio Feb. 2.

In 2004, the U.S. had its smallest fed cattle slaughter since 1993. It produced 24.5 billion lb. of beef but consumed 27.7 billion, partly due to high demand for ground meat.

"Forty-eight percent of U.S. consumption is in the form of ground beef," said Cattlefax executive vice-president Randy Blach.

Cow slaughter in the U.S. was at its lowest level since the mid-1990s and it could not meet the need for lean manufacturing beef from cow and beef slaughter.

In 2003, the U.S. imported about nine million lb. of beef per week but in 2004 it imported up to 60 million lb. of beef a week.

The U.S. net beef supply, which is made up of domestic supply plus imports minus exports, reached an all time high of 28 billion lb. in 2004. The beef trade deficit hit $2.5 billion.

"It is the largest discrepancy between imports and exports in history," said Blach.

While considerable amounts of beef came from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the dark horse was Uruguay. The South American country shipped 375 million lb. of beef to the U.S. last year compared to 72 million the year before. Most of the imports were lean trim used for grinding meat.

Uruguay has a 44 million lb. quota level that it can freely export, but was willing to pay the 25 percent tariff on overquota exports to take advantage of the higher American price, up 35 percent over 2003.

Uruguay benefitted from its status as being free of foot-and-mouth disease, unlike the beef powerhouses Brazil and Argentina. The U.S. allows beef from these two countries only if it is cooked, cured or canned and appears in products like soup mixes, jerky, frozen dinners or processed deli meats.

Last year Brazil shipped about 215 million lb. to the U.S., about 15 million more than its usual.

Brazil's beef quality is not the same as American grain-fed beef. Brazil does not have enough demand for that kind of beef and Japan is not a large enough market for it to change its production practices.

Australia has consistently shipped about one billion lb. of beef to the U.S. in the last five years. It was also a major winner in the global export scene since the U.S. was shut out of Asia. It has stepped up production to meet Asian demand and plans to hold those markets even after the U.S. returns.

"They will fight to keep the market share they gained in those markets," said Mike Miller.

New Zealand has also maintained a consistent export pattern to the U.S., selling more than 630 million lb. annually since 1999.

Canada was the largest beef supplier in 2004 providing 1.1 billion lb. of whole muscle, boxed product to the U.S. Since 1999, Canadian imports have averaged slightly less than one billion lb. The exception was 2003 when beef from Canada dropped to 740 million lb. due to the BSE embargo.

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