October 22, 2003



2003 US Pork Imports Up 15% From Year-Ago Through August


U.S. pork imports through the first eight months of the year were up about 15% from a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


The latest USDA data show total pork imports through August at 339,213 metric tons, or nearly 748 million pounds. To put this in perspective, the U.S. produces an average of about 365 million pounds of pork per week.


Canada is by far the leading international supplier of pork to the U.S., accounting for a whopping 82% share. The volume from Canada as of the end of August was reported at 279,042 tons, dwarfing the second largest supplier Denmark, which has shipped 42,923 tons through the first two-thirds of the year.


Combined, Canada and Denmark provided nearly 95% of the pork imported by the U.S. through that period.


Somewhat surprising to a number of livestock and wholesale meat market sources was that most of the year-on-year increase in shipments from Canada occurred during the first half of the year, prior to the May 20 implementation of the U.S. ban on Canadian cattle and beef.


During the first five months of the year, pork imports from Canada increased by 25,156 tons versus the same period in 2002. In June, they climbed another 6,523 tons, or 21.2%, from a year ago. However, for July and August combined, they were up only 3,300 tons versus the same period in 2002.


Market analysts said the boost in Canadian pork shipments in June was probably due to the industry there having to adjust for the sharp declines in beef prices after the U.S. and more than 20 other nations banned imports of Canadian cattle and beef. The bans were put into place after a single cow was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or commonly known as mad-cow disease.


In August, the U.S. eased its ban on beef imported from Canada but the ban on live cattle remains.


Beef prices in Canada declined significantly after the bans were implemented. Exports accounted for about 42% of the beef produced there in 2002, according to Canadian agricultural officials. Canadians have continued to accept the beef, but there was too much of it to absorb with most of its major export markets shut due to the bans.


The low beef prices caused Canadians to buy more beef but less pork. Soon after the implementation of the bans on May 20, it appeared that Canadian pork processors were unable to sell the pork so they sold more through the export markets. However, that still left some pork cuts to be sold that were not as desired by international customers, so some Canadian packers slowed or temporarily halted their operations.


So, instead of a great deal more pork being shipped out of the country in June through August, the Canadian pork industry exported more live hogs instead. U.S. imports of slaughter hogs, which include barrows and gilts along with sows and boars, increased dramatically during the summer.


Based on the latest data, the USDA's weekly figures showed slaughter hog imports from Canada from the week-ended May 31 through Oct. 11 at nearly 1.127 million head, up about 408,500 head, or 57%, from the same period a year ago.


Total hog and pig imports from Canada for the year-to-date through Oct. 11 were up nearly 924,000 head, or 20%, from a year ago.


Industry analysts predict that Canada will gradually ease its hog and pig exports to the U.S. as more beef and eventually cattle move to the international markets, which should lift domestic pork prices.


On Sept. 29, Springhill Farms, a Canadian pork packer, reopened its slaughtering facility, which seems to have reduced the number of barrows and gilts coming south into the U.S. The plant has a weekly capacity of about 18,000 head, according to industry sources, but reportedly has not returned to that level yet.