Japan ends BSE-related ban on US beef

Dec 12, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Japan has lifted its ban on the importation of American beef, nearly 2 years after the discovery of the first US case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) triggered the boycott.

"Resuming beef trade with Japan is great news for American producers and Japanese consumers, as well as an important step toward normalized trade based on scientifically sound, internationally recognized standards," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said in a statement released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The United States reciprocated by lifting its own ban on Japanese beef, in place since BSE, or mad cow disease, was detected in Japan in September 2001.

Japan has agreed to accept beef from cattle no more than 20 months old, Johanns said. BSE has a long incubation period and has never been found in cattle less than 21 months old. "More than 94 percent of total U.S. ruminant and ruminant products, with a total export value of $1.7 billion in 2003, are now eligible for export to Japan," Johanns said.

The first US BSE case was confirmed in a Canadian-born cow from Washington state on Dec 23, 2003, prompting many countries to close their ports to American beef. A second case was found in a Texas-born cow last June.

Before the ban, Japan was the largest market for US beef, importing $1.4 billion worth in 2003. The United States exported beef to 119 countries before BSE was found. With the opening of Japan, 67 countries have resumed importing at least some US beef and beef products, Johanns said.

At a news conference, he called on other Asian countries to reopen their doors to American beef. "Japan's action today sets an example for other countries in Asia whose markets remain closed. Now is the time for Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Singapore and others to open their markets to US beef. I urge all countries to take a science-based approach and adopt OIE [World Organization for Animal Health] standards for allowing beef trade."

Johanns declined to estimate how much beef Japan will buy from the United States in the next year, but he said shipments are likely to begin within the next week to 10 days. "We know of many plants across the United States who have been anticipating this day," he said. "They are prepared to deal with the . . . export verification requirements."

He said Japanese inspectors would be visiting beef plants to certify them soon, according to an Associated Press (AP) report published today.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the first shipment is planned for next weekend, the AP reported.

However, recent reports suggest that the Japanese will be reluctant to go back to eating American beef. In a survey reported by Kyodo News last week, 75% of the respondents said they were unwilling to eat US beef, according to an Agence France-Presse report today.

The USDA today announced the end of the 4-year ban on imported Japanese beef. The United States will accept whole cuts of boneless beef from plans eligible to export to the United States under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, officials said. High-risk tissues such as the brain and spinal cord must be removed.

Before the ban, Japan exported about $800,000 worth of expensive Kobe beef to the United States annually, the AP reported. The story said Japan has had 21 BSE cases so far.

See also:

Dec 12 USDA statement on reopening of Japan to US beef

USDA statement on reopening of US to Japanese beef

Transcript of USDA news conference

Oct 26, 2004, CIDRAP News story US, Japan agree on BSE precautions for beef trade

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