Pig’s feet, beef tongue, hog intestines, hearts, and livers — while we in the U.S. may turn up our collective noses at the thought of chowing down on such things, these and other pork and beef parts are delicacies in other regions of the world and now constitute a major segment of the export market for U.S. meat, says Dan Halstrom.

“There is increasingly a lot of money in variety meats: tongues, stomachs, intestines, etc.,” he said at the annual commodity conference of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation.

Halstrom, who is senior vice-president of global marketing and communication for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, says, “There are a number of markets that have a lot of demand for these products. Today, it’s about going where the customers, putting the right products in the right market, and building an infrastructure.”

And as been the case with a myriad of products from soybeans to almonds, he says, “China is the gold prize market that everyone is trying to capitalize on.

“In 1995, something as simple as hogs feet were going for 9 cents to 10 cents per pound; then around 2000, our trade with China started to really pick up, and in 2011 pork feet were going for $1.25 pound FOB — worth twice as much in that market as hams.

“China singlehandedly has the ability to change our markets. In August 2011, we set all-time high of $110 per hundredweight for pork cut-outs, an all-time record high because of China. They bought over 150,000 tons of carcasses in 2011, and it took live prices to an all-time high.

“In the Middle East in the last four years, sales are up almost 50 percent for muscle meats; it’s a huge market for livers, particularly in Egypt. Pre-2008, the Middle East was primarily a variety meats market, but in last four years, almost 60 percent of our value on a tonnage basis has been muscle meats.”

And says Halstrom, the demand for U.S. beef, pork, and lamb is across the board — from the variety products to top grade meat.

“We’re seeing more preference for U.S. grain fed beef over grass fed beef from other areas. We’re seeing an evolution into higher value cuts, especially in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai, which is like the Las Vegas of the Middle East, with very fancy hotels and restaurants.

“We’re also seeing a huge demand in the Middle East for high end middle meats, and also a very big demand for ungraded cuts. This has become our largest market globally for ungraded meats. This diversificiation of products and increased value is exciting.”

The U.S. has “a very good story to tell in the international meat market,” Halstrom says, “especially in terms of adding value. We’ve gone from a very small business internationally to $11.5 billion sales of beef, pork, and lamb in 2011, and we expect to be over $12 billion in 2012 — two consecutive years of record export sales. We’re really on a roll!”

In last four to five years, he says, “the volume of meat going to export has just skyrocketed. “In 2011, we were up to just under 5 billion pounds of pork exports, and we expect to set a new record in 2012. The value of exports was $6.1 billion two years ago and will be close to $6.5 billion for 2012, also a record.

“Of every hog slaughtered in the U.S., $56.12 per head can be attributed to the export market, and 27 percent of total pork production went to export — one of every four hogs slaughtered. I think this could easily reach 35 percent in the next couple of years, and some economists are saying 40 percent.”

The top five pork export markets, Halstrom says, are Mexico, Japan, China/Hong Kong, Canada, and South Korea.