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Montana Cows Line Up For Export To China

USDA photo by Keith Weller
Hereford cattle graze on the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory near Miles City, MT on Mar. 1, 2010. ";

Montana cattle producers say they’re now a big step closer to getting their beef back into the potentially lucrative Chinese market. American beef has been locked out of China ever since a 2003 Mad Cow Disease scare in Washington State.Errol Rice of the Montana Stockgrowers Association says that’s about to change.

“I would say there are cattle in the que, as we speak, ready for processing that will be eligible to hit the China market later this summer,” Rice says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced yesterday it’s worked out an agreement with China that will allow those American beef exports to resume. The news comes after last month’s U.S.-China agreement to promote access for American products and more broadly reshape the trade relationship between the countries.

“Beef and beef products must be derived from cattle that were born, raised and processed in the United States, or cattle that were imported from Canada and Mexico and subsequently raised and processed in the U.S.," says Rice. "The bottom line is there needs to be some sort of traceable mechanism to the U.S. birth-farm using some sort of a unique identifier."

An economist at Oklahoma State University told the publication that only about 10 percent of U.S. cattle may meet traceability requirements.

Montana Stockgrowers’ Errol Rice says, it won’t happen overnight, but he predicts Montana could have a ‘large volume’ of Montana beef headed to China by this autumn or spring.

“I’ve had a couple of different calls from individuals in China who are interested in bringing Montana products – U.S. beef into that market," he says. "There’s a lot of opportunity and exciting energy right now taking place to tee up some deals, build some relationships and start to send some beef that way."

Cattle prices are a little off of historical highs from two years ago, but Rice says this news that American beef exports will soon resume in China has spurred talk among producers that calf prices could rise in the fall.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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