U.S. beef exports show craving continues despite mad cow

Thu May 3, 2012 1:42pm EDT

Dairy cows are shown near Hanford, California, where a cow sickened with mad cow disease was found at a rendering plant during routine testing, in this still image from video April 25, 2012. REUTERS/via Reuters TV

Dairy cows are shown near Hanford, California, where a cow sickened with mad cow disease was found at a rendering plant during routine testing, in this still image from video April 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/via Reuters TV

(Reuters) - Major importers stepped up their purchases of U.S. beef last week despite the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in California, government data showed on Thursday.

Export sales of fresh, chilled or frozen muscle beef totaled 16,829 metric tons (18,551 tons) in the week ended April 26, up 8.8 percent from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Authorities reported the fourth U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as the disease is known, on April 24. It was the first occurrence of the brain-wasting disease in the United States in six years.

The muted trade reaction suggested importers were comfortable with the safeguards enacted since the discovery of the first U.S. case in December 2003.

Beef exports sank 75 percent immediately after the disclosure of that first case as big customers, including then-top importer Japan, banned U.S. beef. The USDA reported net sales cancellations in five of the first six weeks following the news.

"This was not something out of the blue. We've had three others before and, realistically, countries that were going to react have done so before. Their officials are reasonably satisfied with the measures the U.S. takes to deal with the problem," Dan Vaught of Vaught Futures Insights said.

"The only country that said it was going to ban U.S. beef was Indonesia, but they're a very small importer," he said.

Indonesia accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. beef exports.

Mexico, South Korea, Japan and Canada, which combined took 65 percent of U.S. beef exports last year, as well as the European Union said they would continue to import U.S. beef. However, two Korean retailers have halted sales.

A South Korean delegation was in the United States this week to review U.S. mad-cow safeguards. The delegation on Tuesday met with the top U.S. animal health official.

Mexico was the top customer last week, buying about 4,000 metric tons, USDA data showed. Japan bought 2,500 metric tons, Egypt 2,400 metric tons, and South Korea and Canada each bought 2,100 metric tons.

U.S. beef export sales in the year to date totaled 359,793 metric tons, up 4.5 percent from the same point in 2011, a year that saw record-large exports, according to the USDA.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Dale Hudson and Bob Burdgorfer)

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