Three Iowa beef producer representatives participated in an Iowa Meat Trade Mission to Mexico in early April. They say Mexico, the United States' largest beef export market, offers growing potential to increase shipments of underutilized beef cuts and beef variety meats. Elaine Utesch of Correctionville, Iowa Beef Industry Council treasurer, and Craig Utesch, cow/calf producer, represented Iowa's beef producers along with IBIC Executive Director Nancy Degner. "Opportunities to export U.S. beef to Mexico focus on price," says Elaine Utesch. "Mexico desires beef cuts and variety meats that are low in value compared to the U.S. Their most requested cuts are inside rounds, goosenecks (bottom round), skirt steaks, chuck clods, and variety meats such as tripe (stomach) and salivary glands. Local processors told us they sell everything but the 'Moo' and we believe them. We learned you can put anything in a taco!"
You can put anything in a taco
Consumer trends are similar to the U.S. since more Mexican women are working outside the home, and there is more interest in convenient food products. "Many of the traditional beef cuts are very thin, so that they cook quickly. Inside rounds are sliced paper-thin (1/8-inch) and sold as Milanese, for use in sandwiches. We thought this thin-cut round steak might be a hit in U.S. markets, and a new use for round steak," says Elaine. "It's evident that NAFTA has made a major impact in the Mexican meat industry," adds Craig Utesch. "We visited state-of-the-art harvest facilities and processing plants. There are now about 350 plants that have sanitary systems equivalent to USDA standards; many of them import U.S. beef. This has improved meat safety and quality for the Mexican consumer."
Mexican, U.S. cattlemen share concerns
Mexican cattle producers and meat processors are struggling with the same issues as Iowa cattlemen and processors. "We visited with a cattleman who is losing money due to high feed costs, low beef prices, labor challenges, inexpensive chicken imports from the U.S. and even urban sprawl," says Craig. "We learned trade has to be two-way, to benefit both countries." The U.S. Meat Export Federation conducts many educational programs to train meat distributors and processor sales forces, chefs, restaurant owners and supermarket meat case personnel. The seminars focus on the benefits of U.S. beef and pork, but also teach new cutting techniques and product safety and handling. The beef checkoff helps fund USMEF's educational and promotional activities. The trip was coordinated by the Iowa Department of Economic Development's international division. Attendees also included members of the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa meat businesses. The team met with meat processors, government agencies, importers and meat industry officials. Partial funding for the mission was provided by the beef checkoff.