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A vendor in China sell a variety of pork cuts Getty Images

Where are U.S. pork primal cuts, variety meats going?

China/Hong Kong and Mexico accounted for over 80% of total U.S. pork variety meat export volume in 2019.

As Ron Plain, University of Missouri professor emeritus, pointed out in his column earlier this week, limited slaughter capacity is the bad-news pork industry story of 2020 and international trade is the good-news story. In the first quarter of the year, pork exports were up 39.9% (577.4 million pounds). During January-March, exports equaled 27.2% of U.S. pork production up from 21.1% a year ago, with 7.8% of production going to China.

U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Dan Halstrom cautions that April and May exports could be down due to U.S. pork processing facilities being temporarily closed and running at reduced capacity, but his outlook for 2020 remains positive. With pork processing capacity currently down 18% due to COVID-19 challenges and U.S. consumers seeing pork supply shortages at retail, it begs the question what parts of the pig are we shipping and where?

USMEF has put together a detailed, item-specific guide to the major destinations for U.S. pork cuts, U.S. pork variety meat, U.S. beef cuts and U.S. beef variety meat, and the estimated percentage of these products that is exported.

This information may be downloaded, either as a PowerPoint slide deck or PDF document, but in the meantime, here are some key facts.

Share of pork primal exports

  • 6% of belly goes to Northern Asia
  • 10% of loin goes to Northern Asia
  • 13% rib goes to Latin America, China
  • 32% of butt goes to Northern Asia
  • 33% of leg/ham goes to Mexico, Canada and South America
  • 60% of picnic goes to Northern Asia, South America, Mexico and Canada
  • Additionally, 2% of 2019 production was exported as boxed carcasses, mainly to China

The majority of edible pork variety meats are exported.

  • Variety meat exports equated to 8.4 pounds per head in 2019 with a value of $7.75 per head
  • China/Hong Kong and Mexico accounted for over 80% of total U.S. pork variety meat export volume in 2019
  • Feet are the top item to China/Hong Kong and feet exports to China/Hong Kong averaged $1.50 per head and 2.2 pounds per head

As Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council, pointed out earlier this month it's a short-run situation at home. U.S. pork needs these export markets.

"A lot of people just look for simple answers and they don't realize the fact that our export business has been built on finding value for products that typically Americans don't value, particularly those kinds of things we call variety meats — organ meats, snouts or pigs feet, things in this order," Dierks said. "There's a lot of material in our export numbers that are included that are delicacies in other parts of the world."

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