Exports of American beef and pork were lower in the first month of 2021, a result the U.S. Meat Export Federation says is due to “COVID-related obstacles and significant transportation and labor challenges.”

Year-over-year January figures for 2021 showed drops in beef and pork exports and disparate figures for lamb (export volume up 7% but export value down 43%). USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom characterized the month as solid despite the drops.

“As key destinations for U.S. red meat roll out COVID vaccination programs, the outlook for 2021 is optimistic, with retail meat demand remaining strong and the expectation that foodservice will rebound in more and more regions,” Halstrom said.

However, he pointed to transportation challenges, “particularly the congestion and container shortages at our West Coast ports where shorthanded crews are handling record-large cargo volumes.” There’s also the matter of labor stability at processing plants still working in the midst of the pandemic.

“Although the global foodservice sector still has a long recovery ahead, international demand for U.S. red meat remains impressive and resilient,” he added. “But a range of logistical challenges must be overcome in order to fully satisfy this demand.”

Compared to 2020 figures, January beef exports were down 2% by volume; value was down 3%. USMEF attributed the decline “mainly to lower beef variety meat shipments” and said muscle cut exports “were steady with January 2020.” Pork exports slightly exceeded USMEF expectations but still dropped 9% in volume and 13% in value. Exports to the China/Hong Kong region dropped – which USMEF noted was expected – but exports to Japan increased.

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