Jun 21, 2006 (CIDRAP News) Japan has conditionally agreed to resume importing US beef, long banned from the country because of concern about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
Under an agreement completed today, Japan will send inspectors to the United States this weekend to check beef processing plants and, if they find no problems, will then allow shipments to resume, according to an Agence-France Presse (AFP) report published today.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the Japanese inspectors will finish their work by Jul 21. "Japan has agreed to expeditiously resume beef trade" once the inspections are done, the statement said.
Japan closed its ports to American beef when the first US case of BSE, or mad cow disease, was found in December 2003. Shipments resumed last December, but they were stopped again a month later when pieces of backbone, a banned item, were found in a shipment of veal.
Only beef from cattle up to the age of 20 months, with higher-risk tissues such as spinal cords removed, can be exported to Japan, the same rules that governed the previous resumption of imports in December.
"Although this agreement is another step toward the resumption of beef trade with Japan, I will not be satisfied until U.S. beef is once again accepted into the Japanese market," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in the USDA statement.
The agreement was completed in two lengthy video conferences between US and Japanese officials over the past 2 days, according to news agencies.
Agreement precedes US-Japan summit
Reports said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is scheduled to meet with President Bush in Washington late next week. US lawmakers, who have threatened to use retaliatory trade measures against Japan, had urged Japan to settle the issue before the two leaders meet, according to a Reuters report today.
Koizumi praised the agreement, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. "The U.S. thought we were slow in reaching this decision, while we thought otherwise," he said. "Our opinions were different, so we discussed the issue. It's a good agreement."
Japanese consumer groups and opposition politicians criticized the agreement as hasty and based on politics rather than science.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, said in a statement quoted by AFP, "The latest decision, not based on science, was made by prioritizing political considerations for Prime Minister Koizumi's visit to the United States, ignoring food safety for consumers."
Japanese officials will inspect all 35 US beef-processing plants authorized by the USDA to ship products to Japan, according to the Reuters report. After trade resumes, Japanese officials will be allowed to accompany USDA officials on spot inspections of the plants, the AP reported.
US beef exports to Japan were worth about $1.4 billion in 2003, according to news agencies.
Feed recalled over possible banned material
In other BSE-related news, a company based in Westport, Conn., has issued a recall of some livestock feed ingredients that might have contained cattle remains, in violation of the 1997 ban on putting protein from ruminant animals into feed for ruminants, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In a Jun 16 news release, the FDA said H.J. Baker & Bro. recalled three products made at its plant in Albertville, Ala. The products, Pro-Pak with Porcine Meat and Bone, Pro-Lak, and Pro-Amino II, are used to make livestock feed, including feed for dairy cows.
"This action is being taken to address potential risk of unintentional contamination with ruminant derived protein that may have occurred at this facility from August 2005 to June 2006," the FDA said.
The products were distributed to feed manufacturers and dairy farms in Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, California, and Louisiana, the agency said.
Jun 16 FDA news release about feed recall