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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #328: January 5, 2006

As U.S. Shipments Resume, Japanese Ask, 'Where's the beef from?'

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

As U.S. Shipments Resume, Japanese Ask, 'Where's the beef from?'
(Martin Fackler The New York Times) International Herald Tribune


Immediately after a BSE infected cow was found in the U.S. in December 2003, Japan banned U.S. beef import, which until then amounted to one-third of total beef consumption in Japan.

Then, upon finding a BSE cow in Japan independent of the U.S. case, the Japanese government quickly formulated a system to test every slaughtered cow in order to confirm it uninfected. The measure was initially criticized to be too cautious, but it did calm down the social anxieties, and the people came began eating domestic beef again, knowing it is safe.

Immediately after the ban, the U.S. government started negotiations with Japan in the aim to restart selling U.S. beef into Japan. Many Japanese, too, wished for a quick agreement on the issue so they can eat U.S. beef again. But it took two full years to resolve, and not to everyone's satisfaction.

As explained in the article, "One of the biggest complaints in Japan has been Washington's refusal to require that every cow killed be tested for the disease. In the face of opposition from beef producers, American officials have rejected such a procedure as expensive and unnecessary."

For the Japanese people already used to the system of testing every cow to guarantee its safety, the claim of the U.S. seemed selfish. The U.S. government even denied a request from a U.S. packer to allow it to process its beef to conform to Japan's standards for it to be exported. The focus of the U.S. government's attention was on the domestic producers, not the Japanese consumers - justifiable to an extent but it was hideously obvious.

The demand by the U.S. was as if, for example, saying that because it is too costly and cumbersome to check every passenger, only a few would be picked to be checked for carrying guns and knives aboard airplanes. Indeed, in the case of airplanes it started out that way - sampling. But people soon realized that it was necessary to check every passenger, not much so to satisfy the theory of probability but to convince the passengers themselves of the safety. Then the systems in airports, both in terms of gadgets to find such unauthorized items and methods to guide the people through them, were devised to make it possible. People have come to accept the current system, being fully aware and acknowledging the cost and hassle to maintain it, for the sake of safety.

The response of Japanese people with regard to the resumption of U.S. beef import is split. Some are not so concerned, perhaps by convincing themselves that if they were to become sick, many U.S. citizens would, too. Others say they would continue to avoid U.S. beef, knowing and willing to bear the extra expenses required to sticking to the policy.

In either case, however, the issue left in the minds of many ordinary Japanese people certain harsh feelings toward the U.S. Japanese people are well aware of the negotiation process through the intense coverage by the media that there was a strong political arm-twisting to accept the "U.S. ways", to override the testing procedures Japan had formulated and operated to suit the needs of the Japanese people. Even for those happy with the return of "gyudon" prepared with U.S. beef, the negotiation would add a touch of bitterness. The article says that Americans now face an uphill battle. It would most likely be so, because it was the U.S. that, by commanding to accept what it tells, abandoned the means to persuade the Japanese people the safety of its own beef.

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