Variety meat exports don’t often make headlines, but they have come to the forefront as a key export opportunity that can put more money in U.S. pork producers’ pockets.
“Growing global populations are creating demand for pork variety meats,” says Tim Bierman, a wean-to-finish pork producer from Larrabee, IA, who chairs the National Pork Board’s International Trade Committee. “These trends definitely play a role in producers’ profitability.”
While 2011 marked a record year for U.S. pork exports at $6.108 billion in value and 4.97 billion pounds, the trade committee wants to boost these figures by $1 billion and 1.103 billion pounds, respectively, by the end of 2014.
“To reach this goal, we’re focusing on increasing variety meat exports,” says Bierman, who noted that the export value of U.S. pork totals more than $56 per head.
The United States is the world’s largest exporter of pork muscle cuts. But while the pork industry produces more than 4.8 billion pounds of variety meats and byproducts each year, just a little over a billion pounds are exported, offering U.S. producers a great opportunity.
A significant portion of U.S. pork carcasses now are rendered to make pet food, blood meal, bone meal and other products. In fact, about one billion pounds of variety meats are rendered rather than being used for human consumption each year, says Becca Hendricks, assistant vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff.
Premium Prices Available Abroad
Rendered products are priced at less than $0.50 per pound domestically, but are often highly valued in foreign countries. In many cases, variety meats sell for premiums that are many multiples of U.S. prices. For example, ears bring $1 per pound domestically but command $2.25 per pound in export markets.
“Many Asian nations purchase a lot of variety meats,” says Bierman, who has traveled extensively in Asia to learn about opportunities for U.S. pork. “Supplying these markets can create more value for the hogs we raise.”
Pork variety meats are showcased in many dishes around the globe, including:
• Chicharron (fried pork skin) in Mexico and Colombia.
• Pho, a soup made from bone stock and bone marrow, in Vietnam.
• Dinuguan, which is prepared with lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout stewed in pig blood, in the Philippines.
Imports of U.S. pork variety meats allow consumers in foreign countries to purchase products that are highly valued in local cuisine, as well as to increase the nutritional value of their diets.
Variety meats also pay off in other ways for U.S. pork producers, Hendricks says. “A number of U.S. export markets add value to cuts, such as ears and intestines, that are not valued by domestic consumers. Successes in these markets have reduced breakeven prices for cuts, such as loins and tenderloins, that are favored by U.S. consumers.”
Increase of $1 Billion?
Boosting variety meat exports will require the United States to address several trade access barriers, Hendricks says. For example, the United States is currently negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, which would include free trade with 10 other countries and open doors for more variety meat exports.
The payoff could be significant, according to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes. Eliminating trade barriers in the partnership could increase exports by $1 billion in 10 years, he says.
“Discussions also are taking place in other parts of the world where trade barriers exist,” Hendricks notes. “Progress is being made in Colombia and Panama, where recent trade deals are offering new access for pork exports.”
Variety meat research remains a priority for the Pork Checkoff, Bierman adds. “Our ultimate goal with variety meats is to get the biggest bang for our checkoff investment in export opportunities.”