Tax season isn’t so far off, so it’s only a little early to get out my yellowed Canon 10-key calculator with tape. I usually only roll it out for taxes, but Bill Bullard sent my head spinning about beef imports.
Bullard, whom I truly want to meet in person someday, managed recently to make beef imports look large by comparing them to production from U.S. states. That’s sort of like looking at them in your rearview mirror — objects appear larger than reality.
But he is right, of course. Only Texas with more than 12. 6 million head of cattle tops the 6.8 million head controlled by importers. And he rightly tallies up the value of imported beef at $4.1 billion, leaving second in the agricultural sector to imported malt beverages at $3.7 billion.
But lone states are not national markets. Texas plus the 49 other states plus imports add up to something like 102,368 million head, and imports amount to only 6.7 percent. How much of that is Kobe beef or in-demand sustainable products or “tasty European veal” is represented in that number? Does Bullard not think that we, loyal consumers of U.S. beef, might not want on a special occasion some Dutch veal and French wine or Kobe beef and sake? It’s not like Americans are not buying records of amounts of beef.
And this counting cows in pens is not as meaningful as the fact that the export value of beef and beef variety meat exports two years reached a record of $7.27 billion. In other words, we are running a sizeable surplus in this sector and not giving up much of our massive domestic market.
Bullard ‘s Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, exclusively represents U.S cattle producers, but do the R-CALF cattle people truly expect 100 percent of their market should be protected?
Bullard pointed to the state production figures in USDA’s recent reapportionment of positions on the Beef Checkoff Program’s Cattlemen’s Board. That exercise was based on herd sizes in 2018.
“The proposed rule reveals that importers control more cattle inventories than any state in the United States expect Texas,” Bullard wrote. So? If that’s important, tell us why. He says cattle-beef imports are large, but why wouldn’t they be.
Americans are buying foreign beef in single-digit percentages, including some sought-after specialty products. The reason U.S. consumers purchase domestic beef 93 percent of the time is likely because of the confidence they have in the product.
If American beef implemented a program where it could prove its origin with 100 percent certainty no matter what the government did with the country of origin labeling, consumers would likely become even more confident. European veal has accomplished that task. Why not American beef?
We don’t doubt R-CALF is trying to improve a lot of farmers and ranchers, but we sometimes wonder if the organization and its leadership think branding provides 21st-century traceability and food safety.
The U.S. meat and produce industries damn well better start getting as serious as the Europeans are about traceability. Too many food safety investigations in the U.S. are ending short of finding a source. And recalls in the U.S. are frequently too large or too vague to be useful to consumers.
We have to admit, we were impressed by how the European veal system can recall a specific box of product that it knows came from a specific animal and sent to a specific store in a specific country. Bullard’s beef producers should equally focus on a food safety agenda, including traceability built on some technology.
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