WASHINGTON – Record-high volume and value of red meat exports during the month of May proved to be a positive sign of global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which by this time last year had forced many foodservice outlets to close and exposed the fragility of the food-supply chain, in the United States and across the world. Based on US Department of Agriculture data, the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) said in a July 7 report that values of US beef and pork exports far surpassed previous records for the month of May. Meanwhile, the volume of US beef exports established a new record for May as pork values reached the third-highest mark in history.

Considering how far export value and volume has surged since May of last year, Dan Halstrom, chief executive officer at USMEF said recovery is well underway, but not complete.

“The industry faced unprecedented, COVID-related obstacles at all levels of the supply chain, and a very uncertain international business climate,” he said. “These challenges are still not behind us, but international demand has been very resilient, and the US industry has shown a tremendous commitment to serving its global customers.”

With growth across a broad base of markets, led by South Korea, China, and Japan, US exports of beef far exceeded 2020 totals in May as volume topped 133,440 tonnes, an increase of 68% from a year ago while value totaled $904.3 million, an 88% jump and the third-straight establishing record highs. Highest-ever demand from South Korea fueled the increase, assisted by continued demand growth in China.  

As for US pork export totals, the US exported 283,617 tonnes in May, a 16% increase compared to last year while value topped $800 million for the first time on record, increasing 31% to $813.2 million, led by record shipments to Mexico and significant growth in Central American markets, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the Philipines. Year-to-date volume of pork exports, while lower than last year (1.34 tonnes), represented a 3% increase to $3.63 billion.

Thanks largely to increased shipments to Mexico and the Caribbean, US lamb exports in May were the highest of the year in volume and value. Volume increased 43% over last year at 1,377 tonnes and value grew 67% to $1.82 million. Year-to-date, US lamb volume was 53% ahead of 2020’s pace at 5,733 tonnes and value of $7.43 million (up 16%).

But Halstrom encouraged red meat exporters to remain resilient in what are sure to be challenging months ahead.

“USMEF remains optimistic that international demand will remain strong in the second half of 2021, but the road ahead is not an easy one,” he said. “The US industry must continue to be innovative and aggressive in defending existing market share, while also expanding our customer base by responding to COVID-driven changes in the marketplace and shifts in consumer trends and preferences.”