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EU becoming bigger importer of Nebraska beef

Some Nebraska beef producers have taken the source and age verification program to a new level, and have entered their calves in a non-hormone treated program, according to Lynn Gordon, Nebraska Department of Agriculture Ag Promotion and Development Division Administrator. Gordon was one of the speakers during the 71st Annual Sandhills Cattle Association convention in Broken Bow, NE.

“This program was started because of the requirement the European Union (EU) put on the United States so we can market cattle to their country,” she explained. “The EU is made up of 27 countries,” she continued. “Some of the countries are small, but highly populated. A non-hormone program has been in effect in their country since 1989. If cattle are imported there, they have to be hormone-free. A lot of what they consume there is grass-fed beef from Brazil. When Brazil got foot and mouth and couldn’t export beef, the EU started looking to the United States again for beef as a protein source.”

In the beginning, the U.S. could only sell 11,500 metric tons of beef to the EU, with a 25 percent tariff. In 2009, they increased it 20,000 metric tons with no duty. Gordon said beef imports from the U.S. may increase 45,000 metric tons within the next three years. Although the EU isn’t considered one of the largest importers of U.S. beef, they have increased their imports of beef from the U.S. by 56 percent in 2009. Gordon said if that trend continues, they could be a major player in the future.



Nebraska has explored a relationship with the EU to export beef, and they are very interested in working with the country. “EU has a high quality beef certificate the beef has to qualify for,” Gordon said. “The beef has to meet non-hormone cattle guidelines, be under 30 months of age, and be fed for at least 100 days. They do have a diet restrictions for cattle they import, but it isn’t hard to meet in a Nebraska feedyard.”

“The most important factor is the cattle can never have had a hormone or growth promotants,” she stressed. “If cattle were implanted with hormones at branding, they can not qualify for this program.”



Restrictions are tight to qualify, Gordon continued. The non-hormone cattle cannot be sold through a sale barn. “They have to move from an approved location to another approved location, like from a cow/calf operation, to an approved feedyard, to an approved packing plant,” she explained.

Gordon said the cattle can be sold through a video auction, since they would still go directly to an approved feedyard from the ranch. “The good thing about this program is once they leave your place, you don’t have to be concerned beyond your cow/calf operation. You just have to have the documentation and paperwork to show you qualify for this program.”

The cattle must have a program-compliant tag before they leave the ranch. The tag is tamper-proof and has a number that only relates to one animal.

Gordon said companies already have paperwork for this program. “Those who participate in this program have to be audited before they can sell their cattle,” she explained. “You have to be listed as an approved seller. Then, you have to maintain records for three years that are required for documentation.”

Through this program, feed rations at the feedlot are analyzed to make sure there are no hormones added to the feed rations, she explained. “Other family members and employees also have to be trained properly to follow the requirements for these cattle,” she said.

In Nebraska, Gordon said three of the larger packing plants in the state are eligible to sell cattle to the EU, and about 30 feedyards are eligible to feed non-hormone cattle.

“I think the demand for these cattle will continue to grow as the EU market tastes the corn-fed beef from Nebraska,” Gordon said.

“There are marketing returns for doing the extra paperwork and management a program like this requires,” she continued. “Producers should look at this as an investment. Just participating in source and age verification can result in other marketing opportunities down the road.”

According to data from CattleFax on Superior Livestock Video Auction, producers who sold calves in the source and age program in 2009 earned an average premium of $24 a head for 525 pound calves. Producers who went a step further and sold non-hormone verified calves earned an average premium of $44 a head.

Gordon said producers who are interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to visit the Nebraska Department of Agriculture Web site for a listing of approved Nebraska feedyards and packers. “It is also important to communicate with representatives from your local sale barn to let them know what programs you are involved with. Visit with the feedyards that advertise they are seeking cattle to meet certain guidelines. Verification companies send out listings to feedyards that are provided to the feedyards and order buyers,” she said.


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