Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Sorting through some agriculture trade data today for work and stumbled across one of the many perversities of the globalized food chain.


The United States is a major exporter of bull semen, enjoying a healthy trade surplus of some $30.4 billion ($46.1 X -$15.7 M). Bull semen, of course (I'm hoping), is used to produce more baby cows in order to expand capacity for producing things like meat, hides, and--you guessed it--more bull semen.

While American farmers may be comparatively advantaged at artificially stimulating bull cows, farmers in other countries are comparatively advantaged at raising cows. In 2002, the United States ran a substantial trade deficit in cattle. After buying our bull semen and producing more cows, foreign countries sold us over 2.5 million head of cattle while we exported a mere 243,394 head (for an overall deficit of 2.26 million head of cattle).

This is somewhat puzzling given that the US is also the world's largest producer of most cattle feed (primarily corn and soybeans). In other words, the US is producing all the inputs of cattle, but outsourcing the rearing of cattle.

Meanwhile, once the cattle get back here, we are quite skilled at turning them into the end product: meat. (See the post below). In 2002, the United States ran a $143.5 billion surplus in beef and veal.


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