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Icky to some, delicacy to others

The sight of a pretty Chinese girl preparing to gobble down a cooked chicken head might be a turn-off for North American meat eaters, but it represents a sexy new market for livestock producers.

Asians are willing to pay a premium for the privilege of eating animal parts the industry can’t give away in domestic markets, an agricultural economist from Iowa State University says.

Selling those parts as well as the premium cuts favoured by traditional markets would lower production costs for North American livestock producers, says Dermot Hayes, an agricultural economist from Iowa State University and the 2012 Kraft Lecturer.

Hayes said the emerging markets for meat offer both opportunities and risks for the North American industry, not the least of which is the possibility of new product lines. (See page 33 for more coverage.)

“Young Asian people love the interesting parts of the animal,” Hayes said.

“This struck home when I saw chicken feet selling at a premium to boneless, skinless, chicken breast.

“They’re bored by the loin and the tenderloin and the ham. They want the feet, the ears, the lungs, internal organs.”

When it comes to producing meat, North America already has a competitive advantage, which would be enhanced by exporting to Asia the animal’s parts thrown out here, but command a premium over there.

“For chickens it would be the wing tips and the feet, with legs going perhaps to Russia and the breast staying here,” Hayes said. “That has two implications. First it reinforces this urge to move a valuable product around and secondly it potentially can reduce the break-even price of the pieces of the animal that’s in demand in North America.”

Hayes, who has visited China and other parts of Asia many times, said he believes the demand is real and not based in poverty.

“If you think it’s crazy to eat pigs’ feet, which I find delicious, have a look at somebody eating ribs sometime,” he said. “It’s not a whole lot dissimilar. We got it into our heads that we can eat the ribs and think they’re delicious but not the feet, well in Asia those pieces are just like ribs.”

Blood, lungs, intestines are in heavy demand and prices reflect it, he said.

“If you could find a way to get marrow out of bones and export it you can get rich because Vietnamese people love a soup called pho soup that relies on essentially that — marrow.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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