As I’ve traveled in different parts of the world over the years, I have tried some pretty exotic dishes. Yet there are some local specialties that I haven’t tried, such as pig intestines, pork skin or beef tongue. And I don’t plan to eat any of them anytime soon.
I’ve learned that meat cuts that cause most Americans like me to scoot away from the table really are delicacies in other parts of the world. Pork skin is in big demand in Mexico and Colombia. Egypt is a big market for U.S. beef liver, and consumers in the Philippines like to eat a dish that includes pig lungs, kidneys, intestines, ears, heart and snout stewed in pig blood.
Not sure how that would taste, but it’s clear that overseas demand for those delicacies, called variety meats, is a big reason why strong export markets are so critical for Iowa livestock farmers. And that also makes them important for the state’s grain farmers, who count on demand from livestock.
The latest numbers released last week by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) underscore just what variety meat exports mean for farmers. In 2016, U.S. exports of pork variety meats jumped 20 percent in volume and 24 percent in value to just under $1 billion, or a big share of the $5.94 billion value of all pork exports. It’s the same story in beef, where variety meats were up 4 percent in value to $902 billion, again a big piece of the $6.34 billion total.
Adding farm income
The beauty of variety meat exports is how they raise the domestic value of each animal by creating demand for cuts that aren’t worth very much in the United States.
As the USMEF’s Dan Halstrom noted recently, beef tongues sell for about $5.70 in Japan, or more than twice the $2 price in the domestic market. That $3.70 premium for the tongue adds $11 to the value that packers pay for the animal and means more green in farmers’ pockets, Halstrom said.
The future of exports is in flux these days with the Trump administration pulling the United States 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 important to make sure decision makers understand how important meat exports are, right down to the snout, skins and tongues.