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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #331: January 23, 2006

Boost for Beef as Japan Bans US

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Boost for Beef as Japan Bans US
(Peter Alford, The Australian),10166,17903473-462,00.html


The article introduced here is from Australia. It openly expresses its delight in Japanese authorities finding disallowed portions in beef imported from the U.S. leading to another import ban less than a month since the trade resumed last month. The article starts out by saying, "Australian beef exporters have been spared serious competition in their most valuable market, ... by a renewed Japanese ban on American imports." It goes on to write, "The attractiveness of Australian beef to ultra-cautious Japanese consumers will be enhanced by the American blunder."

Food safety measures, both in terms of listings and the ways to enforce them, generally differ from state to state, reflecting the needs and desires of the people, which also includes considerations to balance the risks with the resources necessary to enforce it. With regard to BSE, Japan has adopted the rule to require each and every slaughtered cow to be inspected.

It is true that some people in Japan feel it to be too much to test every single cow. This is, however, not because they consider BSE risk does not exist, but because the resources employed for the testing would not worth the tiny level of risk reduction expected out of the measure. Still, the current rule was implemented with apparent support by the majority of the public.

The U.S., in exercising its own right, adopted a different scheme against the risk of BSE that is structurally somewhat lenient than that of Japan. Of course, there would have been no problem, as long as the beef remain in the country where it was produced.

The U.S., badly want to restart its beef export to Japan, initially pressured Japan to accept the American standard on beef imported from the U.S., claiming there scheme has been "scientifically proven" to be safe. Such a stance by the U.S. infuriated the Japanese people as well as the government, which had originally asked the U.S. beef imported to meet the Japanese standard - a logical request considering the beef were to be consumed in Japan.

To make the long story short, it was agreed finally that the U.S. beef export to Japan would be inspected individually for BSE if it were aged over 20 months, and, irrespective of age, "specific risk material" - brains, spines and bone marrow where BSE prions are mostly - was to be removed before shipment from the U.S.

Indeed, it seemed almost a joke when the spine was found in a carton of beef from the U.S., lying there so obviously. The customs inspectors surely could not believe their eyes when they faced a so conspicuous an infringement of the agreement. As for the general public, the reaction ranged from a naive surprise to a cynical "just as expected." It was no joke for Japan's food and restaurant industry as they were preparing for and many had already announced new menus using U.S. beef, planned to start in February. Fast-food chain Yoshinoya had to postpone the planned return of a popular beef dish.

Upon the reveal of the incident, J. Patrick Boyle, President and CEO of the American Meat Institute issued a statement saying, "It is our understanding that a small shipment of veal from calves that were under 6 months of age was shipped. The product was inspected and passed by USDA as safe, but contained bones prohibited by the Japanese. This product is consumed with confidence here in the U.S. It is important to note that BSE has never been detected in an animal this young. ... This incident points to the need for uniform, global export standards to prevent the sort of trade disruptions that this error has caused."

If the above comment were to be excused as a result of panic by the meat producers - though it is currently perceived as an insult, not necessarily to the Japanese people but to the hard-earned agreement upon intense negotiations - even the Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, who should be aware of the seriousness of the incident said in his comment, "While this is a not food safety issue, this is a unacceptable failure on our part to meet the requirements of our agreements with trading partner Japan."

Well, the issue is indeed a food safety issue, perhaps not for the Americans, but certainly is so for the Japanese people. In fact, several reports citing the Secretary's announcement wrote, "While announcing a thorough investigation and stricter inspection measures, however, Johanns also stressed that this 'is not a food safety issue.' Johanns also described the agreement with Japan as 'unusual' because it involves the age limit of 20 months instead of internationally recognized 30 months, playing down the incident's impact on other trading partners."

The U.S., be it the government or the industry, has lost faith of the ordinary Japanese people - including housewives and children - by ignoring an agreement, and blaming it on the agreement itself for the ignorance. Looking from the comments such as cited above made in the U.S., it seems it would take a very, very long time before the import could be resumed. Australian beef is fine. But the U.S. beef in the past had its own place in the Japanese market. It is a pity the Japanese people will still have to wait - perhaps a long, long time - before they can enjoy tasty yet reasonably priced beef-bowls.

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