Neighbors' packing industries offer advantages

Cattle and Beef Industry News
Feb 28, 2014

North America accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s beef supply, and the U.S. shares a small portion of that role with its neighboring countries. Production per animal is highly efficient, particularly in the United States and Canada, but efficiency is only one piece of the packing industry.

All aspects of beef production continue to face substantial regulatory pressure related to air and water quality, food safety issues, and animal welfare/animal rights issues. These pressures have continued to increase, and are not just a U.S. dilemma. The packing industries in bordering countries face some of the same regulations and battles that the U.S. packing industry combats.

Canada regulations

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), like USDA, takes on the safety and regulatory role in Canada. The CFIA monitors all establishments that export beef and beef products to international markets and has the authority for administration and enforcement of Canada’s Meat Inspection Act under federal law. The Agency also sets standards for animal health and carries out related enforcement and inspection.

The National Cattle Identification System, enforced by the CFIA since July 1, 2010, requires each animal to have an ear tag approved by the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) and encoded with a unique identification number when leaving the original herd. Canada’s mandatory cattle identification system utilizes radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags and an internet database to enable rapid and accurate animal information.

“A strong traceability system will help Canadian producers get the premium prices their top quality products deserve around the world,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, when the system was first implemented. “With RFID technology, we’ll be better able to trace an animal, which is not only important to human and animal welfare but also key to the sustainability of the Canadian livestock industry as a whole.”

“We have worked with government to move forward on traceability and we believe that de-listing the bar-coded tag will advance traceability initiatives,” said Darcy Eddleston, Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) Chair.

“RFID technology is critical to advancing the traceability system and maintaining the speed of commerce that our producers require to remain competitive in the marketplace,” said Travis Toews, the Past- President of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Canada’s National Chemical Residue Monitoring Program (NCRMP) tests samples of beef fat, muscle tissue and internal organs for chemical residues. Testing is performed for veterinary drugs, as well as other agricultural and industrial chemicals. Any finding of chemical residues is evaluated to determine if there is a violation of Canada’s maximum residue limits, which are enforced under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act.

In the event that a violation is found, an investigation is conducted and further compliance testing is conducted.

In addition, Canada’s enhanced feed ban (effective July 12, 2007) bans specified risk material (SRM) from all animal feed, pet food and fertilizer. Under the enhanced feed ban, requirements are specified for anyone handling, transporting or disposing of cattle remains, including renderers; fertilizers, pet food and feed manufacturers; waste management facilities; and veterinarians. A CFIA permit is required to transport and receive SRM in any form. As well, livestock producers must no longer use any feed products containing SRM. The regulations of the enhanced feed ban are mandatory and regulated by federal law. There is no part of these regulations or program that is voluntary.

The CFIA administers a national livestock feed program to verify that livestock feeds are manufactured and sold in accordance with the federal Feeds Act. This program includes evaluation by Feed Section personnel of products before sale and post-market inspection and monitoring by CFIA field staff located throughout Canada.

The CFIA Animal Disease Surveillance Unit works to detect and respond to potentially emerging animal diseases. Through the formation of a nationwide network, the disease detection capabilities of Canada’s veterinarians, provincial and university diagnostic laboratories and the federal government are combined. Canada communicates the results of its surveillance for reportable diseases to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The exchange of information is an important part of Canada’s commitment to work with other nations to establish the best approaches to protecting animal and human health.

Canadian veterinarians and inspectors strictly enforce the humane handling and slaughter of cattle. In addition to strong regulations, the Canadian cattle industry developed a voluntary Code of Practice to ensure that animals are treated with respect. This Code of Practice defines the minimum standards of care for feeding, housing, transporting, and overall handling of cattle. This is an important and unique aspect of cattle production in Canada.

Under Canadian law, each animal must undergo ante mortem (before slaughter) screening by trained operators to detect potential illness or injury. CFIA personnel then conduct a further ante mortem inspection including a detailed assessment of any animal showing evidence of disease by an official veterinarian. Cattle not meeting animal health requirements are clearly identified, segregated from other cattle and completely excluded from meat production.

Canada’s food safety systems for meat plants are based on the internationally-recognized Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) model. A complete HACCP system is mandatory for all Canadian meat plants exporting beef products and requires both prerequisite programs, as well as HACCP plans.

With the global world becoming smaller and smaller with technology, equipment, transportation, and communication, working together seems nothing short of mandatory.

In February, Canada and the United States agreed to harmonize the terminology used for wholesale cuts of meat; a small piece of the puzzle in working together.

As of Feb. 24, 2014, selected meat cut names including chicken breast fillets, beef hip and lamb leg and chops can be used interchangeably with their Canadian equivalent. The full list of eligible names that can be used interchangeably are listed in the CFIA’s Meat

Cuts Manual and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications document.

“Our government recognizes that the North American livestock industry is based on the integration of Canadian and U.S. sectors and this initiative will render benefits for stakeholders on both sides of the border,” said Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Mexico regulations

While Mexico packing regulations are a little harder to pinpoint, the country has made some changes over the years—some voluntary and some government regulated.

Mexico has historically been a top export market for U.S. beef, but in 2003, it emerged as an important source of beef imports for the United States. U.S. beef imports from Mexico at least doubled in 2010 and 2011. In 2011, Mexico exported 59,000 metric tons of beef to the U.S., making it the fourth largest exporter of beef to the United States. The volume of boneless, fresh, or frozen meat cuts exported from Mexico to the U.S. increased by nearly 68 percent from 2010 to 2011, while the volume of exports of Mexican bone-in beef cuts increased by nearly 59 percent. Exports to the U.S. market are vital to the Mexican beef sector, and in 2011 they reached $325 million, or 61 percent of the value of all Mexican beef exports during the period.

According to USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), the increase in exports of Mexican beef to the United States is partly due to an increase in the number of TIF (Tipo Inspeccion Federal) plants inspected by Mexico’s federal government. Such plants must meet standards similar to those in the United States.

Meat that is moved across state borders in Mexico or exported to the U.S. must be inspected at the federal level. In the last 60 years, the number of operational TIF establishments increased from 15 to 365 across 27 states in Mexico.

Mexico has also increased its production of grain-fed beef. Increasing numbers of cattle are being fed through semi-intensive and intensive feedlot operations, boosting the supply of grainfed beef available for export.

In addition, feed consumption of coarse grains in Mexico has trended up over the last two decades, as has the volume of distillers’ dried grains exported to Mexico.

The Mexican beef industry continues to improve its infrastructure and marketing channels but still faces challenges in competing with domestic crop production for inputs, feed sources, forage, and land, according to ERS.

In 1996 Beef Producers founded the Mexican Association of Beef Producers (AMEG) with chapters established primarily in Northern and Central Mexico.

In 2007 AMEG founded Mexican Beef Exporters Association (referred to as Mexican Beef), a nonprofit association comprised of Mexican companies focused on beef exports. Since the beginning, Mexican Beef exports have increased consistently year after year. In 2011 they exported 6.23 percent of total production, representing almost twice the amount of exports in 2010 at 3.6 percent of Mexico’s exports of total production.

Mexican Beef is an organization that is part of The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food for the Mexican Government (SAGARPA) which represent 11 Mexican meat companies certified for exporting to various countries; mainly USA, Russia, Japan and South Korea.


According to a 1996 study by Wallace E. Huffman and John A. Miranowski, at Iowa State University, Mexico was on its way to dramatically expanding the size of its cow herd (nearly double).

This fits with information from AMEG which claims there continues to be potential cost advantage to meat packing, primarily in Mexico, relative to the U.S. The group also reported Mexican beef exports almost doubled in 2011, going from 56,278 metric tons to 95,759 metrictons. Other beef byproduct areas, including the leather industry, have benefited from neighboring countries. The U.S. leather industry has declined steadily for over 30 years (the proportion of hides domestically processed has fallen from about 80 percent in the mid- 1960s to less than 30 percent by 1990).

“The expanded supply and lower post-slaughter processing cost in Mexico give it a comparative advantage in beef production, despite the fact that most of its feed grain requirement will be met by imports from the U.S.,” noted Miranowski.

“As a result, Mexico is able to expand its exports of feeder calves to the U.S. by about 3.5-4 million head when technology is transferred (relative to a 1987-90 base level) and when Mexican real income also increases by 10 percent. Mexico is also able to become a beef exporter (750 million pounds per year) and beef prices in both countries decrease,” the two wrote. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor