Value of US pork, beef exports hit records in 2012

(REUTERS) - The United States (US) exported a record-large volume of pork in 2012 while the value of both pork and beef exports was the most ever despite a decrease in shipments as the year came to a close, government and trade group data released on Monday showed.

Pork exports totaled 2.26 million tonnes, up narrowly from 2011, with the value of those sales up 4 per cent at US$6.3 billion (S$7.8 billion), both records, according to the US Meat Export Federation, which compiles USDA data that was issued on Monday.

Beef export volume declined 12 percent to 1.13 million tonnes. But the value of the sales jumped 2 per cent to a record $5.51 billion in a year that saw all-time highs in Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures.

Growing global demand for meat propelled export volumes, while record animal feed prices amid the worst US drought in five decades forced up meat values, analysts said.

"Certainly the changing consumer buying patterns throughout the world has influenced demand," said Mr Rich Nelson, analyst at Allendale Inc.

Export sales slowed in December with the beef volume down 16 per cent from a year ago while the pork volume declined 14 per cent.

Sale volumes should continue to the decline in 2013 due to a smaller US cattle herd and to Russia banning US meat imports containing the animal feed additive ractopamine. The additive is used to make meat more lean.

Russia's imports of US beef rose 10 per cent to a record of 80,408 tonnes in 2012, while pork imports were up 33 per cent.

That was before the country's ban that went into effect this month. US officials have urged the country to lift the ban.

However, the potential for increased sales to Japan, the No 2 US market after Canada, could limit the fallout of fewer sales to Russia.

Japan last month announced that it will accept US beef from cattle up to 30 months old, a change from its previous 20-month age limit. The 20-month limit had been in place for a decade as a safe guard against mad cow disease. Meat from the older cattle was shipped to Japan last week, said Philip Seng, president of the Meat Export Federation.

"The trade does have this mentality that exports will be down this year... certainly with the Russia news taking precedent. But if we see Japanese buying, we could change some expectations," Mr Nelson said.