Total U.S pig meat exports for 2011 came in at 5.2 billion pounds, 23 percent above 2010 totals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest report.

Exports to China which saw 328 percent growth over 2010 (668 million pounds exported compared to 156 million pounds), was the main contributing factor, said the USDA. Chinese purchases of U.S. pork were a means used by China to tame pork price inflation which came about largely as a consequence of the Chinese pork sector’s ongoing problems in controlling various lethal swine diseases.

It is possible that the incidence of such diseases as foot-and-mouth disease and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome will recede as Chinese pork production shifts from its current model, characterized by millions of small “backyard” operations, to a smaller number of larger, integrated, production units with stringent biosecurity and herd health programs in place.

Until then, according to the USDA, it is likely that large pork exporters as the U.S., Canada, the EU and Brazil will function as “safety valves” for China, implying the continued possibility of high volume and price volatility as exporters adjust to the Chinese presence — or absence — in international markets. Japan was the main importer of U.S. pig meat, receiving 1.48 billion pounds in 2011, up from 1.284 billion pounds in 2010. Mexico was second, just ahead of China, with 1.038 billion pounds (slightly up from 2010's 1.037 billion pounds). Canada, South Korea, Russia, Australia, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Honduras rounded out the top ten 2011 exporters.