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Record-high 2013 pork exports

01/22/2013 @ 2:01pm

U.S. pork exports may hit a new record this year as the global economy improves and pork production slows in Europe, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation and several industry analysts.

The nonprofit Meat Export Federation, which promotes sales of U.S. meats in overseas markets, estimates that pork export volume will rise 4% and that the dollar value of those sales will increase 5% to $6.6 billion. The figures would represent new records for both volume and value, eclipsing last year's estimated totals, the federation said.

The group's estimate differs with a U.S. Department of Agriculture projection for 2013 exports to be slightly below last year's volume. However, several meat-industry analysts said the USDA projection is too conservative and that they estimate export figures roughly in line with the federation's forecasts.

Analysts said the U.S. is likely to benefit from new animal-welfare regulations in the European Union that are expected to slow pork production there in the near term. That could lead Asian importers to order more supplies from the U.S. instead of the EU, they said.

"Export demand for U.S. pork has managed to stay very strong during recent global economic problems," said Dan Norcini, an independent hog-futures trader in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. "Why would it not be even better if the global economy is stabilizing and showing signs of life?"

Pork, the most widely eaten protein in the world, accounts for about 36% of the world's meat intake, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The U.S., the world's leading pork exporter, has increased the value of export sales by four-fold in the past decade.

Last year's U.S. exports rose nearly 3% in terms of volume to about 2.29 million metric tons from a year earlier, according to preliminary estimates from the Meat Export Federation released earlier this month. It projected that the total dollar value rose 1.5% to $6.3 billion. Both would be records.

For 2013, "a modest decline in EU production is anticipated, which will elevate already-high prices and should make U.S. pork even much more attractive in our major export markets," said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the federation.

China, the world's largest consumer of pork, is expanding its domestic pork production, which will limit opportunities for exporters to sell pork there, Mr. Schuele said. However, the U.S. could capture additional market share in the country, especially from European suppliers, he said.

The potential for lower EU production stems from a ban in Europe effective this year on the industry's use of individual stalls known as gestation crates. The stalls, which restrict the movements of sows, or adult female hogs, have been criticized for years by animal-rights activists as being too confining and inhumane.

Analysts expect the rules to lead to lower production because some hog farmers can't afford to overhaul their production facilities to be in compliance.

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