What’s required to ship food overseas and is it worth the effort?

March 26, 2018


In my previous blog, I outlined the parties responsible for making sure meat shipped into the United States is safe. What about the flip side of that coin – who’s watching what we export? There are plenty of hurdles to clear for U.S. interests to ship agriculture products overseas and the U.S. government is the go-between.  

Exporting food from the U.S. requires two things, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The producer must follow U.S. laws and regulations. They must also follow the requirements of importation to the destination countries. Foreign customers or governments ask U.S. exporters interested in their markets to supply a written certification for products regulated by the FDA  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors the export of products from the U.S. through a set of regulations and policies. Around 140 countries have an approved Export Verification Program, according to a list maintained by the USDA. To give you an idea of how complex it can be to export food, the guidelines for shipping agriculture products to the People’s Republic of China are several pages long – covering such things as eligible and ineligible products, labeling requirements, and documentation requirements.  

I’ve been asked on my Facebook page if meat is required to be antibiotic-free in order to enter the U.S. The answer? Meat coming into the U.S. must comply with the same guidelines required by the Department of Agriculture for domestically-produced meat, which ensure the meat is safe and free of any harmful residues. We know that treating sick animals to make them better is the ethical thing to do and when that happens, the animals must go through a required withdrawal period to allow the medicine to clear their systems. Routine testing of meat confirms its safety. Meat shipped by the U.S. to other countries must also meet this requirement.   

Is it worth all the red tape to ship U.S. agriculture products overseas? Judge for yourself.   

The American Farm Bureau Federation says 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States and more than 20 percent of U.S. farm income is based on exports. A University of Georgia economics professor puts it this way: “Fully one-fifth of U.S. agricultural production goes to export markets and the money that flows back… helps create all sorts of jobs in rural communities selling farmers products or selling things to those who sold farmers other things.” 

 The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is very active in securing foreign markets for U.S. raised pork and beef. The organization says its work last year equated to an additional $53 per head for pig farmers and almost $290 per head for cattle producers. Exports are important to the poultry industry, too. In a normal year, about 20 percent of meat chicken production in the United States goes to foreign markets. That’s a big deal for American farmers in maintaining economically viability. One farmer told me that exports play a key role in his plan to one day pass his farm to his kids.  

The benefits extend to grain farmers, too. Every ton of red meat exported from the U.S. utilizes about 1.5 acres of corn. Likewise, every pound of U.S. pork exported represents the use of almost a pound of soybeans. It adds up fast when you consider we exported nearly 2.5 million metric tons of pork and around 1.25 million tons of beef last year.   

In case you’re wondering, the value of U.S. exports far exceeds the cost of our imports to the tune of around $15-20 billion per year. That’s called a trade surplus and it’s a really good thing for our country. Not all U.S. sectors enjoy a trade surplus, so agriculture helps to balance the scales.  

Just as U.S. consumers enjoy a wide variety of choices at the supermarket, including items from other countries, food produced here in the U.S. is highly valued in overseas markets. And regardless of where the food is produced, if it’s allowed into this country, then rest assured there are systems in place to make sure it’s safe and wholesome.  

 I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.