by Kellie Henderson
||ACA President Eric Smith of Reform, ACA President-Elect Max Bozeman of Elba, and ACA treasurer Ned Ellis of Ft. Deposit welcomed South Korea’s top Ministry of Agriculture officials to Alabama. The team reported back that U.S. beef is safe and recommended the re-opening of the country’s border to American beef.
A recent tour in Alabama by Korean agriculture officials is evidence that what affects the state’s beef industry extends far beyond US borders.
Following a meeting in Alabama last month, the South Korean Minister of Agriculture announced plans to resume imports of American beef.
In late April, South Korean agriculture and animal health experts visited Alabama in response to the discovery of a confirmed case of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE in the state in March. Korean officials who viewed the animal’s dentition concurred with US findings the cow was old enough that it likely contracted BSE before the 1997 ban on feeding ruminant byproducts to cattle. Such feeding practices are the only known way cattle contract BSE.
Billy Powell, Executive Vice President for the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, says this visit was important for state and national beef producers. "The first group came to confirm the age of the cow, and that put us over the first big hurdle," said Dr. Powell.
At press time, the next team of Korean experts was expected to tour processing facilities that will supply beef to Korea. Powell said, "That visit would not have happened had the first one not gone well. I’m very confident that trade will resume soon," Powell said.
Once the third largest buyer of American beef, South Korea stopped buying US beef in December of 2003 when a dairy cow in Washington state was diagnosed with BSE. With the discovery of a BSE positive cow in Alabama in March, many feared the worst for US beef exports worldwide; but Powell says the beef industry is moving in the right direction.
"Obviously we want foreign nations to get back to buying our beef. South Korean imports are a significant factor in the global market for US beef. A number of markets closed in 2003 with the first US case of BSE, and each one that reopens is a step in the right direction. The production cycle of beef is on an increase, and we need the foreign markets to keep that cycle profitable. We hope that the reintroduction of US beef to South Korea will speed similar actions with markets in Japan and China," said Dr. Powell.
Powell says he hopes US consumers will take notice of South Korea’s confidence as well. "This is one more reassurance that the United States has one of the safest beef supplies in the world. Their confidence with our protocol means we are taking the proper measures to ensure a domestic food supply of continuing quality," he added.
Recent information from the USDA bears out the safety of US beef. Based on data from their Enhanced BSE Surveillance Program, which tests animals most likely to have the disease, the USDA estimates the number of BSE cases present in the US to be between 4 and 7, or less than 1 case per million adult cattle.
Alabama has 25,000 farms that produce beef, with 1.3 million head of cattle and calves.
According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, US Beef exports to Korea totaled more than $800 million in 2003. With the market in South Korea indicating an increase in beef consumption since that time, the resumption of beef exports to South Korea shows great promise for beef producers in Alabama and the nation at large.
Korean officials have indicated that US beef exports could begin as early as June, which is good news for beef producers. Perry Mobley, Alabama Farmers Federation Beef Division Director, says foreign markets consume approximately 10 percent of all beef produced in the United States, and reductions in demand for American beef could lead to an oversupply, driving down the price of cattle.
"Alabama producers are no different than producers elsewhere in the United States. Global marketplace fluctuations affect our producers just as they do anyone else, and Southeastern producers are already at a slight price disadvantage to those in the West and Midwest due to transportation costs of feeder cattle to feed lots," Mobley said.
Mobley said he too is optimistic the visit scheduled for late May will mean greener pastures for American beef producers.
"The South Koreans have not officially reopened their borders to American beef, but they are indicating they will. They have a 16-day fact-finding tour of 37 U.S. beef slaughter and packing facilities scheduled for late May. Following this trip, we are hopeful the South Koreans will resume beef trade with the United States," said Mobley.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.