Industry watchers are warning the US that it is more dependent on European meat
exports than it thinks. In the wake of strict import bans on all livestock products
from Europe, prompted by fears over the devastating spread of foot and mouth disease,
questions are being asked as to how long America can cope without the popular
restaurant dish of baby back ribs.

About 50% of all delicate baby back ribs eaten in the US are exported from
Denmark, and American restaurateurs are concerned that if the import ban continues,
current supplies of Danish ribs will be exhausted in four to six weeks. Actually
derived from adult pigs, baby back ribs are already expensive, now US meatpackers
are negotiating wholesale price hikes that may soon translate into higher restaurant
prices.

Others are adamant that it’s not all bad news. Roger Johnson, director of pork
quality at the Triumph Pork Group, argues that the import ban "is
a great opportunity" for US producers to come into their own. Steve Meyer,
an economist at the National Pork Producers Council, raised a dissenting voice
however, pointing out that the Danish are expert in pork production, a skill
that translates into superior products: "They are just really good at raising
pigs."

Denmark is among the top three pork exporters in the world, and developed the
baby back rib about 20 years ago. Ribs now account for US$100m of the US$191m
of pork exports that are sent to the US and the Danish product is the superior
choice for large US restaurant chains such as Outback Steakhouse and
T.G.I. Friday’s. US equivalents to the Danish ribs are larger and, many
argue, less meaty.

Anxious to reach its fourth-largest market, Denmark is petitioning EU and US
authorities to recognise its foot and mouth free status. Last Friday, officials
from the USDA met with Danish representatives to learn how Denmark is protecting
itself from the spread of the highly contagious disease. Furthermore, because
it takes three weeks to ship the product across the Atlantic, there is plenty
of time to stop shipments if Denmark reports a case of FMD infection.