In my travels to different parts of the world, I’ve tried some pretty exotic meat dishes. I even ate a barnacle once in Portugal. (Chewy and not all that tasty.)

Yet, there are some local specialties, such as tongue or tripe, that I haven’t tried and don’t plan to anytime soon. I think I can safely say most Americans would agree with me on that.

But there are a lot of people around the world who find these cuts downright irresistible. Pork skin, for example, is in big demand in Mexico and Colombia to make a dish called chicharron. Egypt is a big market for beef liver, and in the Philippines consumers go for broke and scarf down a dish that includes pig lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout, all stewed in pig blood. The list goes on.

While most Iowans prefer chops, steaks and burgers, the overseas demand for what are euphemistically called “variety meats” is a big deal for our state. As America’s top pork state and big player in beef, meat exports are a big contributor to Iowa’s economy, adding value to crops and livestock. And with one in five Iowans working in agriculture or ag-related fields, exports of variety meats are also creating a lot of jobs.

The real benefit of variety meat exports is how they raise the value of each animal processed at one of Iowa’s livestock harvesting plants. Demand for cuts that aren’t worth very much in the United States, or ones that may even be headed to a landfill, significantly raise the value of each animal. That puts more money in the pockets of Iowans that can be spent on groceries, clothing and everything else Iowans buy.

As a representative of the U.S. Meat Export Federation noted recently, a beef tongue sells for about $5.70 in Japan, or more than twice the $2 the same product will bring in the American market. That $3.70 premium for just the tongue adds $11 to the value that packers will pay for the animal. That means more green is headed to Iowa.

The future of exports is in flux these days with the United States pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and planning to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

As the United States works to establish new trade deals and rework existing ones, it will be critical to remind the new administration and lawmakers just how important meat exports are to Iowa’s economy, right down to the snout, skins and tongues.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau's news services manager.