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Our Take on Current Ag Issues in Korea

March 16, 2010

Greetings from I-LEAD class IV!

We’ve had a busy two days around Seoul meeting with a variety of ag officials, touring a port, and more:

* On Monday we met with officials from the Ag Trade Office of Korea to get a general overview of Korea’s agricultural markets. Then we headed off to meet with the Korean Feed Association and Nonghyup Feed Inc. (NOFI). These grain buyers and grain industry leaders had a lively dialogue with us about the quality of the 2009 corn crop, and we tried to learn more about their grain needs.

* Some of the U.S. corn that is imported into Korea is used for swine feed. When we met with the Korea Swine Association (KSA) on Monday afternoon, we learned that per capita pork consumption in Korea has been increasing since 2005, because beef is expensive, Koreans are eating less rice and more meat, and bacon is extremely popular in Korea. The KSA believes pork consumption in Korea will continue to increase, which offers opportunities for U.S. pork. We ended the day with a pork dinner hosted by Darby Genetics. There was plenty of great food and good laughs, and our Korean hosts had as much fun as we did!

* On Tuesday morning we continued to learn more about the issues surrounding U.S. meat products in Korea. We met with representatives from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), who informed us that there are many challenges facing U.S. beef in Korea. Following the BSE case in the United States in 2003, Korean consumers have been extremely leery of U.S. beef and believe it is not safe. In fact, more than a million participants (including moms, teenagers, and average citizens) participated in a candlelight demonstration in 2009 to protest U.S. beef. These consumers believe (falsely) that there are a large number of BSE contaminated cattle across the United States. To reassure Korean consumers about the safety and quality of U.S. Beef, the USMEF has launched a “Beef Story” campaign, complete with print ads, television commercials and more, to help drive demand for U.S. beef.

* To see U.S. beef in the Korean marketplace, we traveled to a butcher shop and toured a Costco store to see how U.S. beef is priced and how it is marketed, compared to the main competitors: Korean beef and Australian beef. At the butcher shop, we also saw how consumers could use their Web-enabled cell phones to scan a bar code on the meat packages to see where and when the U.S. beef was produced.

* In the afternoon, we headed to the massive Incheon port to learn more about what happens to U.S. grain that is shipped to Korea. The port, which has 48 sets of concrete silos with a total storage capacity of 150,000 metric tons, can unload a large ship full of grain in about 2.5 days. To round out the day, we enjoyed supper at Sunheung-gol, where we were served food made from the pork rib cut.

It’s hard to believe, but our time is Korea is nearly over, and we fly to Vietnam on Wednesday. Watch for more details soon!

I-LEAD Class IV

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