Last year, most global economic factors hinted that U.S. pork exports might lose a little steam from the rapid growth of the last decade. The U.S. dollar remained strong and economies around the world were weakening, which would generally not be positive for U.S. pork exports.

But U.S. exports did remain strong, rising 21 percent in the first 10 months of 2001 compared to the same time period for 2000.

“Last year’s strong export growth flew in the face of many of the economic signals,” says John Cravens, director of foreign market development for the National Pork Board.

Two events overseas contributed to the surprisingly strong growth in exports. The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe and the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Japan allowed U.S. pork exports to kick it up a notch in a year that otherwise expected moderate growth.

The outbreak of FMD in Europe forced affected countries unable to export for several months, leaving their export markets searching for other suppliers of pork. Also significant was the BSE outbreak in Japan, which led to a 60 percent decrease in Japanese beef consumption and spurred a 10 percent increase in Japanese pork consumption, says Cravens.

While both these disease outbreaks were chance happenings, the United States’ ability to capitalize on these situations was not a chance happening. The U.S. pork industry took advantage of the market opportunities, because it has a high-health and food-safety status, making U.S. pork an attractive option when disease and food safety concerns arise.