Joel Haggard has worked in Asia for the last 20 years promoting US red meat exports on behalf of the US Meat Export Federation, a non-profit group sponsored by funding from the US Department of Agriculture and industry contributions.
Q: What does USMEF do here? Lobbying, marketing?
A We’re not allowed to lobby, we just do marketing. In a place like China, however, we mostly provide technical assistance to buyers so they understand the products. There are hundreds of cities in China and in each city there are dozens of meat distributors, and some of them aren’t even aware of what our products are.
Q: What is the current regulatory environment regarding US meat sales in China?
A: It’s challenging. China is the only country in Asia where we don’t have any access for beef. Pork is also challenging. China has zero tolerance for pathogens in meat. There are also restrictions on allowable feed additives. For example, there is zero tolerance for the presence of beta-agonists [performance enhancers] in meat products. The one that is probably causing the most challenges is a compound called ractopamine. In China this is banned because in the past there were problems with another, stronger beta-agonist called clenbuterol, which is banned in the US and elsewhere.
Q: China cites the risk of "mad-cow disease" in US beef as its reason for blocking imports. Are the concerns valid?
A: We believe countries like China should follow the international guidelines established by global experts – not just US experts. The World Organization of Animal Health has guidelines on products that can be safely traded from countries with controlled risk of BSE. Under controlled risk, this panel of scientists say that most beef products can be traded. We’ve hardly had any cases of BSE in the US in years.
Q: The other theory is that China is trying to protect a beef industry that hardly exists. That seems odd.
A: They’ve been unable to come to terms as to what should be allowable products. The US has argued that all products should be allowed in. China has said, we’d like to take it in stages. Our position is, each trade issue should be dealt with according to the science. Otherwise, how can you have a trade regime? You’ve got to look at the risks of the specific product rather than operating a trade regime according to linkages with this product or that product. We think the evidence presented has been ample, and we hope the market opens soon.