A northwest Iowa couple traveled to Japan and South Korea this summer to promote U.S. beef and try to reverse import restrictions connected to the 2003 discovery of "Mad Cow" disease in a U.S. cow.
Kevin and Terri Carstensen run a feedlot in the Odebolt area. They met with meat buyers, retailers and consumers in both Pacific Rim countries. Kevin Carstensen says while there’s great acceptance of U.S. beef in Japan, that’s not the case in South Korea.
"We aren’t accepted real well in South Korea yet, but I guess the shining star of it is Japan," Carstensen says. "The consumers in Japan are wanting all the U.S. beef we can send over there."
B.S.E. — commonly called "Mad Cow Disease" – was discovered in the U.S. in December of 2003. Prior to the discovery, Japan was the number one foreign market for U.S. beef and South Korea was the third largest importer of U.S. beef. Today, the Japanese government will only accept beef from U.S. cattle that are under 20 months of age. Carstensen says consumers in Japan are big fans of U.S. beef.
"A testament to that: one day we did a promotion in a store and the meat cutter behind the counter couldn’t keep up with putting packages in the cooler that they were selling out of," Carstensen says. "So they’re definitely after our meat and it’s economically priced and they like the marbling they get from…Midwest corn-fed beef."
According to Carstensen, Japanese shoppers want "age and source" verification on the meat they buy. Carstensen says that’s been a "big problem" for U.S. livestock operators because there are seasonal variations in the supply, with May, June and July being big months for beef production, as that’s prime grilling season when U.S. consumer demand for beef spikes.
Terri Carstensen says Japanese consumers get really detailed information about the beef they buy. "Japan has what they call their ‘traceability system’ where they have a computer screen, a monitor right up on their counter and you can go by a bar code and swipe the bar code and it will bring up all the information on the farmer and his age and where he lives and what he fed these cattle," she says. "It’s quite interesting."
The Carstensens helped host a large outdoor barbecue in South Korea where beef samples were served to about 7000 people.
Kevin Carstensen is past president of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. Terri Carstensen is past vice chair of the Iowa Beef Industry Council.