The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 30, 2013

Hog farmers woo Japanese buyers

Trade mission stops in Mankato to hear from area producers

By Dan Linehan
dlinehan@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — Japanese culture tends to favor less well-cooked meat, such as sushi, and the delegation wanted to know if they could cook American pork less than well done.

The Japanese pork buyers got the answer they wanted from Dave Preisler, the executive director of the Mankato-based Minnesota Pork Producers Association. He said American hogs are raised indoors, making it virtually impossible to contract diseases such as the parasite trichinosis.

Because of improvements in the removal of foodborne diseases, the federal government lowered the temperature two years ago to which pork ought to be cooked, from 160 degrees to 145 degrees, he said.

A five-member trade delegation from Japan is on a tour of Minnesota pork producers. The farmers’ aim is to show off the quality of their pork and, ultimately, persuade the delegation to buy more of it.

Minnesota ranks third nationwide in the number of pigs raised, and the industry brings in gross revenues of $2.37 billion annually statewide. About 26 percent of American pork is exported, and Japan is the largest importer of American pork, in dollars.

Minnesota Soybean, a trade group located next door to the pork association, also had a stake in the visit. Nearly all soybean feed is used for poultry and pork.

Among the delegation was Kuniaki Hiromatsu, who works for Meijiya Sangyo, a wholesaler for about 100 specialty butcher shops around Japan. It also acts as a distributor, selling meat to independent outlets.

When asked what he’s looking for as a buyer, Hiromatsu said through a translator that price is important because pork is a commodity. All pork is not the same, though, and he can also gain an advantage by buying higher-quality pork, including more-expensive cuts such as loin and ribs.

Pork is popular in Japan, he said, but they’re not as crazy about bacon as we are.

Hiromatsu said he was surprised by the diverse cuts and presentation of American pork. He said he was under the impression that supermarkets here offer only large portions and limited selections.

The delegation is scheduled to visit a Swift plant in Worthington and a Hormel plant in Austin.

Courtland-area pork producers Reuben and Judy Bode were on hand to answer questions about how the hogs are raised. They showed a brief video that showed off the cleanliness of their 2,500-sow farm. Each sow gives birth to about 29 piglets a year. Giving farm tours is difficult because of concerns about spreading disease, so the video was the next-best thing.

Their message was that Minnesota pork producers care deeply about food safety, and the industry is “highly regulated,” as Reuben Bode put it.

Giving the buyers a look at how pork is raised and processed gives them confidence in buying it, Preisler said. And it lets them identify the product with real people, he said.

If these buyers decide to buy American pork, they probably won’t specify that it comes from a particular farmer, or even a particular state. So the delegation won’t be setting up deals with producers, which means the officials won’t know for some time whether the trip bore fruit.