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Beef, It’s for the Chinese

Written by Dennis Sun

The exciting news lately has been the Chinese government accepting American beef. We applaud their good taste in beef. We’ve known our beef is the best for years, and now we get to share our beef with the Chinese – all 2.4 billion of them.

Reading up on the Chinese lately, it is mind boggling to decipher the large numbers that describe their population. They just never stop. If they really like our beef, they could take most all of it and still want more. We know that’s not going to happen, of course. We do read where they are interested buying some packing houses. Remember, they already bought the Smithfield pork packing houses.

But, there is interest expressed.

Joel Haggard, senior vice president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation in the Asia-Pacific region, said “The number of inquiries to our exporters number in the hundreds, if not low thousands, since the announcement of the agreement.”

Australia and New Zealand have to be concerned. They have had China all to themselves, except for India selling some water buffalo to them. Another concern for Australia is they have had a terrible drought, and their cattle numbers are low. Also, similar quality cuts of U.S. beef are expected to be cheaper than Australian meat because of low U.S. grain prices, a large component of the cost of raising and finishing cattle.

We’re dealing with the Chinese here, and price will be a selling point, no doubt. They say, despite high interest, strict Chinese import laws will limit shipments of U.S. beef initially. I would guess the high-end restaurants would get the good beef first, then the low cuts and organ meat would follow into the local markets.

China is changing its ways lately. With the influx of money, people are eating out more and more at fast food restaurants, so much so that they say there are around 100 million obese people in China, five times as many as in 2002. When it comes to obesity-related diseases, China is fast catching up with America. A medical study in 2010 estimated that almost 10 percent of China’s population has diabetes, compared with 11 percent for America.

So, they do need some healthy American beef, and we are going to be competing against Australia for that beef. The Australians have made headway selling their grass-fat beef as healthier, so there is competition. But some Chinese are saying the taste and tenderness of U.S. beef will sell.

Then, there is the culture. Even newer apartments in China have tiny kitchens and small stoves, hardly bigger than a hot plate, to cook on. A big, porterhouse steak would take up the whole stove, and they have no place to grill meat outdoors.

China is also changing, they say. In the cities, more people are eating out or on the run. The Chinese millenials are having boxes of food mailed to their apartments instead of shopping every day. Instead of everyone having a bicycle, they have a car in the cities. They still have noodles or rice every day, along with pork, chicken or duck, but in the cities, beer, fried chicken, burgers and sodas are common. They can afford chocolate now, and for the Chinese, the best part when eating out is that they may eat their dessert anytime. We need to learn from them.