Earlier this month (June 2017), the U.S. and China confirmed that U.S. produced beef would be exported to China for the first time since 2003. That’s a 14 year loss of export opportunity to U.S. ranchers, feeders, and packers. Prior to the ban, the U.S. was the largest supplier of imported beef to China. What changed in 2003 and in 2017?
When China initiated the ban in 2003, it was “stated” that it was over concerns about Madcow Disease in U.S. beef. However, to this date, no human has ever contracted Madcow Disease from beef produced in the U.S. It might appear that the Chinese government jumped on an opportunity to punish the U.S. and put pressure on it to comply with other trade agreements. That isn’t just hindsight, many in the industry felt that was the motive behind the ban at the time and never bought the Madcow story.
The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of beef, measured in pounds of meat. We don’t have the largest numbers in terms of head of cattle, but we produce more pounds of edible meat for several reasons that boil down to a simple word: efficiency. U.S. ranchers, feeders, and packers lead the world in technology, feeding practices, genetic improvement, and production methods. Our beef is safe, healthy, and wholesome.
So, again, what changed? Did we agree to different production policies or practices? No, the only thing that changed to allow the trade ban to be lifted is the political will of the two countries. Critics of cattle ranching and meat production often like to use examples of countries that don’t accept U.S. beef as evidence that the product is tainted and unhealthy for human consumption. They site hormones, antibiotics, and GMO feed as examples of production practices that should convince buyers not to consume it. This new trade agreement between the U.S. and China is a good opportunity for us to pay attention to what is really driving this train: political will. Nothing was changed in terms of production methods to make this happen.
The rules of the agreement are that beef exported to China must be cattle born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. or that were imported to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico prior to being slaughtered. The animals must be traceable to their birth farm or to the first place of residence or port of entry if imported from Mexico or Canada.
There has been a big boost in morale for all of American agriculture lately. The President gave a resounding endorsement of our farmers and ranchers at the rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this week. He referred to farming and ranching as a “noble industry” and thanked the people for producing food for all of us. Regardless of political persuasion, we should all be thankful for an administration that thinks the people who feed us are noble and valuable. Thank you, Mr. President, for a pat on the back and for recognizing our existence. It felt pretty good!
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