Darrell R. Mark, Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Galen E. Erickson, Extension Feedlot Management Specialist
Rick Rasby, Extension Beef Specialist
Since the loss of most major beef export markets in December 2003, most countries have resumed beef trade with the U.S. Trade has resumed, however, under a different set of rules than prior to the BSE event, and some of the rules differ by importing country. Some countries restrict imports to boneless boxed beef while others permit bone-in product. Of more consequence to producers, however, is the age requirement in place for export to most countries. Many countries require that imported beef from the U.S. be from cattle less than 31 months of age (30 months or less), although Japan requires imported beef from the U.S. to originate from cattle less than 21 months old (20 months or less). The export rules are established in USDA’s Beef Export Verification (BEV) Program and apply to companies, producers, feedlots, packers, and fabricators who supply beef and beef offal for export. The BEV Program contains fairly specific rules that differ according to the export destination. Therefore, suppliers of beef must comply with the specified product requirements of the BEV Program for the country they are exporting to through a USDA approved Quality Systems Assessment (QSA) Program or Process Verified Program (PVP). QSA programs and PVPs include a written explanation of how cattle are managed and a description of the records that verify events (like age) and activities (such as vaccination). A key component of these programs is evaluation of the actual production activities in comparison to the written plan through routine auditing by USDA.
As resumption of beef exports to Japan, South Korea, and other countries results in larger trade volumes, it will be necessary to approve more beef for export under the appropriate BEV program. In most cases, this will require age verification. While processors can rely on physiological carcass grading, supplies of eligible cattle may eventually be insufficient to meet the demand. Thus, a premium may be available to producers that can provide age verification through a QSA or PVP program. In order to meet the requirements for the BEV program, producers must enroll in or create a QSA program or PVP to document and verify cattle age. Several existing QSA programs and PVPs offer producers the opportunity to enroll cattle in an “umbrella” program, thus eliminating the need for an individual producer to create his/her own program. Some of these programs may offer additional verification claims that could have value in some markets and some programs may better fit the production practices and cattle types for an individual producer. Therefore, producers should review requirements of various QSA programs and PVPs and evaluate one which best fits their existing production and marketing practices.
While premiums for age verification differ according to the program and time of year, current premiums of $35/head are available. Maintaining age and source records and/or participating in a QSA or PVP program does come at a cost, however. For some producers, these costs may be negligible. For others, it may exceed the premiums available. For a full discussion on the costs of age and source verification, as well as links to lists of QSA and PVP programs, visit the UNL Beef Production website and click on “International Marketing.”