BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Meeting a growing global appetite for red meat in an environment that is increasingly aware of and sensitive to sustainability issues was addressed by Joel Haggard, senior vice president, Asia-Pacific for the US Meat Export Federation, on Sept. 28 at the World Meat Congress 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"Asia, in particular, has a growing appetite for red meat and this region is an area of future growth for the US pork and beef sectors – as well as our competitors," Haggard said.

"Production resources in the United States, such as grain acreage, are in limited supply," he added. "With sustainability awareness and accounting increasing, production costs might increase. However, the track record of the US beef and pork industries in terms of increasing production efficiencies has been positive, and US livestock producers have faith in the ability of technology to continue to yield gains in production efficiencies."

The success of the US corn industry over a 20-year span from 1987 through 2007 – when it reduced the amount of land needed to produce one bushel of corn by 37%, cut irrigation water use by 27%, reduced soil loss by 69%, and slashed emissions and energy usage by 30% and 37%, respectively, was cited by Haggard.

He also noted efficiencies in beef and pork production as the meat production per animal has more than doubled for the US pork industry since 1980 while the US beef industry is producing 13% more beef from 13% fewer animals. In both cases, feed and water utilization are down, as are land usage, energy and carbon emissions.

In key markets such as China, a shift in meat self-sufficiency can have a huge impact on global meat markets, and Haggard believes sustainability considerations could be a factor in those decisions.

"A drop in China's pork self-sufficiency to 90% would equate to roughly 5 million metric tons [11 billion lbs.] in imports – close to the total of all global pork trade volumes currently," Haggard said. "China faces agricultural sustainability challenges from a number of standpoints. If China were to factor in the cost of sustainability and assess whether for the economy as a whole it may be beneficial to import more meat rather than use scarce domestic resources to produce it, the implications are significant. If every livestock-producing country included its sustainability costs fully into its livestock production equation, global meat prices might look different from those of today."