Beef imports not making up for lost cattle

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
U.S. beef imports from Canada are not making up for the fed cattle that were being brought across the border for slaughter before they were blocked in May 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was discovered north of the border.
Currently, only boneless beef from young cattle is allowed to cross the border. No live cattle may enter the U.S. from Canada, and even certain cuts and beef products aren't allowed to enter.
Total beef imports this year are well above 2003 levels, said Robin Fuller, president of Tall Grass Consulting, but it would be inappropriate to compare the two since even beef imports were shut off for the rest of the year following the May BSE report. Comparisons have to be made with 2002 or older records.
U.S. Department of Commerce figures show beef imports on a carcass basis through July at 608.362 million pounds, Fuller said. During the same period in 2002, beef imports were at 636.733 million pounds, so imports aren't even up to 2002 levels.
David Weaber, director of research and special projects at Cattle-Fax, also said, in an e-mailed response to questions, that imports were not digging into the cattle the U.S. might be importing were it not for BSE.
"From a historical perspective, we have not really increased imports enough to account for all of the fed cattle we are not importing," Weaber said. But beef imports may account for some of it. Year-to-date beef imports, at about 608 million pounds, are about 12 percent more than the 1998-2002 average of 543 million, Weaber said.
"On an annual average basis (1998-2002), fed cattle imports from Canada were 723,000 (head) per year," Weaber said. "At 800 pounds carcass weight per head, that is 578 million pounds of fed cattle beef that came here on the hoof, or 48 million pounds per month."
The situation may change a bit as 2004 wears on, Weaber said. Cattle-Fax expects beef imports from Canada for the year to total about 1.15 billion pounds, compared with the 1998-2002 average of 950 million. This means increased imports could offset about a third of the five-year- average fed cattle imports, he said.
That would even be above the 2002 beef imports of 1.091 billion pounds and account for some of the cattle the U.S. is not importing from Canada, Weaber said. — Lester Aldrich, Dow Jones Newswires