Workers at the Iowa Premium plant in Tama.

More Iowa companies are beginning to sell beef to China, which started allowing imports of U.S. beef in late June. China placed a ban on U.S. beef in 2003 after a scare over mad cow disease.

Chris Freland is executive director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council. “Having been out of a market for 14 years…this is an exciting opportunity for cattle producers,” Freland says.

Iowa Premium in Tama was among the first companies certified by the USDA to send beef to China. Recently, at least three other Iowa companies received USDA approval. They are Pacific Processors in Des Moines, Thunder Ridge Beef Company in Sigourney, and Quality Refrigerated Services, an Omaha-based business with a plant in Spencer.

Freland notes there are a lot of restrictions on the beef China will accept. “So, it’s going to be a niche opportunity for cattle producers who want to feed (animals) the way (China) wants them fed,” Freland says. “They want the traceability.” Beef exported to China cannot include certain growth drugs and must be traced to cattle that were born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

Demand for beef has been growing rapidly in China. “They’re looking to import $3 billion worth of beef this year, so we’re talking value and volume,” Freland says.

Nearly a dozen companies in Nebraska have been certified to ship beef to China. Around 24 companies in 10 other states are also approved.