US Catholics allowed corned beef on Paddy's Friday, meat industry cheers

CHICAGO (Reuters) - In recent weeks, the U.S. meat industry has found itself wrestling with a culinary conundrum: Would American Roman Catholics be able to eat corned beef this St. Patrick's Day?

Traditionally in the United States, the Feast of St. Patrick - a celebration of Irish culture, and renowned for all things green - calls for a family meal featuring corned beef and cabbage.

But this year, the holiday will fall on a Friday during Lent, the season when many Christians observe a period of fasting and repentance. Catholics are required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

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St. Patrick's Day celebrations 2017
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St. Patrick's Day celebrations 2017
Children watch the St. Patrick's day parade from a window in Dublin, Ireland March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge presents the 1st Battalion Irish Guardsmen with shamrocks during the annual Irish Guards St Patrick's Day Parade at Household Cavalry Barracks on March 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
The Burgtheater (Imperial Court Theatre) is illuminated with green lights to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Vienna, Austria, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
A paradegoer wearing a green clover suit poses for a picture during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, New York, U.S. March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney
A paradegoer adjusts a pin on the sash of her friend during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, New York, U.S. March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney
People watch the St. Patrick's day parade in Dublin, Ireland March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
People dressed in green outfits pose for a picture during the St. Patrick's day parade in Dublin, Ireland March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A float is seen during the St. Patrick's day parade in Dublin, Ireland March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny (R) presents a traditional gift of a bowl of shamrocks to U.S. President Donald Trump during a St. Patrick's Day reception at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walks with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City, New York, U.S. March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Irish wolfhound Mascot Domhnall at the annual Irish Guards St Patrick's Day Parade at Household Cavalry Barracks on March 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
People celebrate St Patrick's Day 2017. This year edition of St Patrick's Festival takes place from March 16th-19th, and brings 3,000 artists, musicians, dancers, poets and performers in a stanning programme with many events spanning four days and nights. On Friday, March 17, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People celebrate St Patrick's Day 2017. This year edition of St Patrick's Festival takes place from March 16th-19th, and brings 3,000 artists, musicians, dancers, poets and performers in a stanning programme with many events spanning four days and nights. On Friday, March 17, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People celebrate St Patrick's Day 2017. This year edition of St Patrick's Festival takes place from March 16th-19th, and brings 3,000 artists, musicians, dancers, poets and performers in a stanning programme with many events spanning four days and nights. On Friday, March 17, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
St Patrick Day Parade 2017 in Dublin's city center. This year edition of St Patrick's Festival takes place from March 16th-19th, and brings 3,000 artists, musicians, dancers, poets and performers in a stanning programme with many events spanning four days and nights. On Friday, March 17, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke Of Cambridge presents the 1st Battalion Irish Guardsmen with shamrocks during the annual Irish Guards St Patrick's Day Parade at Household Cavalry Barracks on March 17, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
St Patrick Day Parade 2017 in Dublin's city center. This year edition of St Patrick's Festival takes place from March 16th-19th, and brings 3,000 artists, musicians, dancers, poets and performers in a stanning programme with many events spanning four days and nights. On Friday, March 17, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: Members of the County Carlow Association ride horses as they march past Trump Tower on 5th Avenue during the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, March 17, 2017 in New York City. The New York City St. Patrick's Day parade, dating back to 1762, is the world's largest St. Patrick's Day celebration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: A New York City Police officer plays the tuba as he marches in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade on 5th Avenue, March 17, 2017 in New York City. The New York City St. Patrick's Day parade, dating back to 1762, is the world's largest St. Patrick's Day celebration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Participants march on Fifth Avenue during the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A young girl joins her mother in a band marching on Fifth Avenue during St. Patrick's Day parade in New York on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: A spectator shows his Irish pride as he watches the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, March 17, 2017 in New York City. The New York City St. Patrick's Day parade, dating back to 1762, is the world's largest St. Patrick's Day celebration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Participants play bagpipes as they march on Fifth Avenue during St. Patrick's Day parade in New York on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, (L) and his wife Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge react as they each hold a pint of Guinness whilst talking with off-duty soldiers from the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, after watching their annual St Patrick's Day parade at Cavalry Barracks in Hounslow, west London on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / RICHARD POHLE (Photo credit should read RICHARD POHLE/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: 256th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 17: 256th Annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 17: performers take part in the annual St Patrick's Day Parade on March 17, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Carrie Davenport/Getty Images)
DOWNPATRICK, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 17: Anna Wilkinson lays flowers on the grave of Saint Patrick as the wreath laying ceremony takes place outside Down Cathedral on March 17, 2017 in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. Tradition holds that Saint Patrick and his companions landed at the mouth of the Slaney river, a few miles from Down Cathedral, in 432 AD. From here Patrick traveled extensively spreading the teachings of Christianity before his death on 17th March 461 AD. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The Irish Government Buildings in Dublin go green on the eve of St Patrick's Day. On Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A view of Dublin center on the eve of St Patrick's Day. On Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Cheltenham , United Kingdom - 16 March 2017; A statue of 1986 Gold Cup-winner Dawn Run, trained by Paddy Mullins and ridden by Jonjo O'Neill, is illuminated green for St. Patrick's Day during the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. (Photo By Cody Glenn/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
The fountain is dyed green on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2017, in honor of the visit of Taoiseach of Ireland Enda Kenny and St. Patrick's Day. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, USA - MARCH 11: Boats on the Chicago River after it was dyed green for the St. Patricks Day celebration in Chicago, United States on March 11, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, USA - MARCH 11: People watch the Chicago River after it was dyed green for the St. Patricks Day celebration in Chicago, United States on March 11, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Traditional Irish-American meal of corned beef and cabbage is seen in this photo illustration taken in Roselle, Illinois, U.S. on March 11, 2017. Picture taken on March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Theopolis Waters
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So meat packers and restaurants breathed easier after dozens of church leaders around the country recently granted dispensations to the corned-beef faithful.

At least 80 of the nearly 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses have issued some form of exemption on avoiding meat on St. Patrick's Day, including those in Chicago, Boston and Atlanta, according to the Catholic News Agency.

In Omaha, Nebraska, Archbishop George Lucas said Catholics in his archdiocese could eat beef on March 17 as long as they abstained from it on March 18.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, in the top U.S. cattle producing state of Texas, said Catholics could eat corned beef provided they substituted a comparable penance.

The seasonal demand for the stringy, salted hunks of meat is usually a time of economic cheer for country's beef sector, when sales boom.

St. Patrick's Day and the Fourth of July are the top two holidays for U.S. beef consumption at home, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association trade group.

Corned beef sales account for less than 1 percent of total retail beef sales during the rest of the year - but jump to 9 percent in March, NCBA said.

The largest U.S corned beef producer, Colorado Premium, accounts for 30 to 40 percent of about 70 million pounds of corned beef consumed on St. Patrick's Day, and sources its meat from JBS SA <JBSS3.SA>, Tyson Foods Inc <TSN.N> and others, company spokesman Zack Henderson said.

Such volume is expected to help offset the tight margins that have challenged beef processors in recent months, analysts said.

Overall, U.S. beef retail prices are hovering at three-year lows amid heavy supplies, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. For the week ending March 8, choice brisket price averaged $1.50 per pound, down 18 cents from last year and the lowest since the $1.41 average for the same period in 2013.

(Editing by P.J. Huffstutter and Matthew Lewis)

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