TradeVistas | livestock trade in goat farming

The Global Travels of Live Animals

Horses, Asses, Mules and Hinnies Atop the Tariff Schedule

Unless you’re a farmer or animal breeder, the first item in Chapter 1 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule is one we may think about the least – Live Animals. For most Americans, live animals are a long supply chain away from the supermarket.

At over $21 billion in 2017, global trade in live animals has increased 140 percent over the last two decades. Some 45 million hogs, 16 million sheep, 11 million head of cattle, 5 million goats and 1.9 million poultry (mainly chickens) were transported around the globe, some for breeding and about 80 percent intended for consumption. A specialized segment within the transportation sector is dedicated to transporting live animals by air, land and sea – from air cargo, tractor trailers and trains, to ocean container shipping.

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Shifting Resource Burdens

The world will be home to 9.7 billion people by 2050. With more mouths to feed, agriculture production must become more efficient against the challenges of limited arable land, energy and water resources, especially in developing countries. International development agencies promote raising livestock as a way to increase income for smallholder farmers (owners can sell products and/or offspring) and to achieve greater food security in rural areas through access to high quality proteins. Importing livestock in the last few months of their life can reduce expenses associated with animal feed and veterinary care while conserving limited water resources.

The water-stressed Middle East region has become a major importer of live animals. Demand for meat and dairy products has grown steeply in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Importing mature live animals avoids the need to rear animals from birth, shifting the water burden while meeting demand for animals freshly slaughtered in adherence to religious requirements.

Trade in live animals 3x increase

Trade in Genetics, No Goats No Glory

Countries are investing in improving their livestock by either importing live animals or importing frozen semen and embryos for artificial insemination, a process that is achieving higher success rates as costs are coming down. Global trade in purebred animals for breeding in 2017 was a $780 million industry. The animal genetic market is projected to grow from $4.2 billion in 2018 to $5.8 billion by 2023.

In November last year, 1,503 U.S.-origin Holstein heifers valued at $3 million were sold out of Statesville, North Carolina and shipped to Egypt aboard a livestock carrier in an effort by the Government of Egypt to improve the country’s dairy operations supporting output of milk for yogurt and cheese. Qatar is importing American-born dairy cows to surmount trade bans by neighboring countries.

Chickens are by far the largest category of live animals traded globally with hogs coming in second. But it’s dairy goats that could prove key to achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goats consume fewer resource inputs than cows, goat milk is nutritious, and women often have strong roles in dairy goat ownership and management.

Caprikorn Farms is the oldest goat dairy in Maryland. Raising some of the best dairy goats in the United States and the world, their genetics are in demand. They have worked with Russian authorities to not only send several live animal shipments to Russia but also improve Russia’s health protocol for international shipment. Ten of their goats even flew to Qatar on a private jet.

Bees also get in on the global trade act. Not only do bees circulate throughout the United States to pollinate our many crops, $48.1 million worth of live bees – including Queen bees and semen — were exported globally in 2018. Europe shipped $26.5 million or 55.2 percent of the global total.

Live animal trade routes 2017

Protecting Livestock on the Journey

While North American cattle and hogs have a short truck ride or may even live on ranches along the borders, many animals face a long ocean journey during which their health can be compromised. They are sometimes relegated to older vessels that may be converted from general cargo and not purpose-built to transport the animals in safe conditions. Often on journeys for weeks at a time, animals are at risk for fatigue, heat stress, overcrowding, injury and the spread of disease in close quarters.

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) issued the Terrestrial Animal Health Code in 2019 that provides standards for transporting animals by land, sea and air to protect the health and welfare of the animals and prevent the transfer of pathogens via international trade in animals.

As the global population increases and agricultural producers seek to maximize the resources available to them while improving output, global trade in live animals is likely to continue to grow. Standards and cooperation in international trade practices will need to evolve along with that trend.

Contributor Sarah Smiley lives on her family farm in Appalachia where they have raised fainting (myotonic) goats and Charolais cattle for more than 20 years.