U.S. beef imports from Mexico have at least doubled in each of the last 2 years, continuing an upward trend that began in 2003 (fig. 1). The impetus for the increased imports is beef from Mexican Tipo Inspección Federal (TIF) plants and increased production of grain-fed beef, the quality and type of beef U.S. consumers prefer. The increase in coarse grain domestic feed use in Mexico, in addition to increased exports of U.S. feed and distillers’ grains, is evidence of the shift toward fed beef in Mexico.
Beef imports from Mexico in 2010 totaled 107 million pounds, making Mexico the fifth largest exporter of beef to the United States. Through November 2011, imports of beef from Mexico increased by 46 percent over the same period in 2010. The majority of beef imported by the United States from all sources is processing beef, which is mixed with trim for grinding in the United States. Over the last 10 years, on average over 86 percent of beef imports to the United States have been boneless, fresh, or frozen meat cuts, much of which is used in processing. This category of imports has increased from Mexico—by nearly 88 percent in 2010—but is paralleled by increasing imports of bone-in beef cuts as well. Of the bone-in beef cuts imported to the United States in 2010, which excluded processed fresh beef, nearly 42 percent were supplied by Mexico. However, it is notable that beef imports from Mexico still serve a very small portion of overall US beef consumption1.
There are two reasons for the increasing exports of Mexican beef to the United States: (1) an increase in the number of TIF plants in Mexico (federally inspected slaughter plants meeting standards similar to those in the United States), and (2) an increase in production of grain-fed beef in Mexico, the quality of beef that most often meets the tastes and preferences of U.S. consumers. For meat to be moved across State borders in Mexico or to be exported to the United States, it must be inspected at the Federal level. When the Mexican inspection program began 60 years ago, 15 TIF establishments were operational; that number has grown to 365 TIF plants in 27 States in Mexico, rising almost exponentially in the past few years. In 2010, 75 TIF slaughter establishments were certified, including some preexisting facilities that were converted to adhere to TIF standards. These efforts are being driven by initiatives in Mexico to produce higher quality meat products, become more competitive in the global marketplace, and capture gains from exports. The Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) announced this year that another 100 active slaughter establishments will become certified TIF plants (http://www.sagarpa.gob.mx/saladeprensa/boletines2/Paginas/2011B600.aspx). Through October 2011, Mexico exported beef products valued at $452 million, with 60 percent of that earned from beef sent to the United States.
The increase in TIF plants has resulted in an increase in boxed beef and higher quality, exportable beef cuts. Since TIF plant production of boxed beef is increasing as it replaces traditional hot-carcass (with viscera) marketing on a value basis, not only is there a greater supply of the primal and sub-primal cuts that are in greater demand by U.S. consumers compared with Mexican consumers— such as tenderloin (filete), loin (lomo), sirloin (aguayón), ribs (costillas), and short ribs (agujas cortas), for example—but there is more trim available for processing. Trim is also in greater demand in the United States relative to the Mexican market, where beef from culled animals is not ground but is consumed as muscle cuts. Mexican consumers tend to prefer the leaner cuts of beef, such as the chuck and round, with little or no marbling, since the traditional grass-fed beef production system in Mexico produces leaner beef.
Although Mexican consumers still prefer traditional cuts and processing methods, changing preferences in certain areas have resulted in growing demand in Mexico for the flavor and other attributes of grain-fed beef. As a result, increasing numbers of cattle are being fed through semi-intensive and intensive feedlot operations (table 1). One limitation to Mexico’s beef production is forage availability, but with greater numbers of cattle finished in the feedlot rather than on pastures, more forage resources are being released for cow-calf production This, in turn, will allow for greater total beef production in Mexico. Grain-fed beef is still produced in a somewhat less intensive system compared with U.S. feedlot production—feeding periods are shorter and carcasses are considerably leaner, with little or no marbling—but this is still a significant shift from the traditionally grass-fed beef production systems where animals have yellow fat and are often 3-4 years old at slaughter.
In addition, feed consumption of coarse grains in Mexico has trended up over the last couple of decades, supporting the expanding Mexican beef production and feedlot industry (fig. 2). The increase in dried distillers’ grains (DDGs) exported to Mexico in recent years (fig. 3) has also supported the increase in Mexican cattle feeding.
An increase in TIF processing capacity, changes in beef demand in Mexico and the increase in Mexican grain-fed cattle for slaughter are resulting in a greater supply of beef available and of interest to the U.S. import market. The Mexican beef industry continues to improve infrastructure and marketing channels but still faces challenges in competing for inputs, feed sources, and forage and land availability from domestic crop production. Mexico has the potential to keep growing as a supplier of beef to the United States as the changes in demand, cattle feeding, and slaughter in recent years are sustained.