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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:54 03/09/2007
News Review #357: July 27, 2006

Japan Ministry OKs End to US Beef Ban

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan Ministry OKs End to US Beef Ban
(AP) Houston Chronicle


"At last!" might be the feeling many Americans, beef exporters and politicians alike, would have in confirming the news. As for the Japanese, however, while there are people sharing the feelings of the Americans, a large chunk of the population might respond "So what?"

The report of a BSE infected cow found in the U.S. in December 2003 surprised the Japanese people, and there was inevitably some confusion. But at that point, the people believed the situation was a rare accident, that there would be appropriate measures implemented in due course, and had no intention of accusing anyone for any malicious intent of negligence as the cause of the incident.

The Japanese government, however, subsequently lost the people's confidence in its sloppy handling of the situation. The government and the agencies came up with various sorts of false and fabricated reports covering up their previously committed minor blunders in the aim of hastily convincing the people that the beef they eat is safe. Faced with the people's rage, in order to regain confidence and trust perhaps more than anything else, the government introduced a new scheme. It was simply to test every cow slaughtered for BSE, conceivably the most stringent means to achieve the goal.

The public was satisfied with the new tough rules, and considered the method to be the norm in maintaining safety of beef they consume. For the U.S., however, testing every cow was simply not acceptable a realistic option. Such was how the issue started to become one of the most irritating political topics between Japan and the U.S.

In the meantime, it was natural for the Japanese people reading the reports of the bilateral negotiations to suspect that the U.S. might be hiding something, or that the U.S. has no concern for the health of the Japanese people. In any case, the people felt there would be no need to solve the matter quickly, as imports from other countries began to gain pace.

That was how it was until December 2005, when Japan first lifted the ban on U.S. beef import. Ironically, what seemed to be the finishing blow struck only after a month, in January 2006. A package of beef was found at the customs containing spinal cord, agreed between the governments to be excluded before shipment from the U.S. This, for the still wary people in Japan then, seemed a vivid proof of the lingering suspicion that the U.S. would not care to take necessary steps to abide by the rules agreed with Japan. The people's response this time was more of apathy than anger, simply pretending that such thing as U.S. beef had never existed, and having no interest in the fate of U.S. beef so long as it would not be sold or served unmarked as such.

That said, there are many, especially young Japanese who are anxiously waiting for the return of beef-bowls at Yoshinoya restaurants across the country.

Yoshinoya, a major "don-buri (bowl-dishes)" restaurant chain specialized in beef-bowls before the initial ban of U.S. beef in December 2003, has endured the hard times by constantly introducing new dishes to its customers. While other restaurants began to use beef from other sources such as Australia and China to resume serving beef-bowls, Yoshinoya stubbornly stuck to the position that U.S. beef is essential in sustaining the taste and quality of its beef-bowls. It seems, then, finally the efforts to remain in business have paid off. Yoshinoya has already announced its plans to start serving beef-bowls in about two months, as soon as U.S. beef is distributed amply in Japan and the facilities at the restaurants are refurbished.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if and when the public would come back to purchase U.S. beef the way they did before December 2003. Skepticism toward U.S. beef in the peoples minds have not gone away. And while many are aware of the small and perhaps-negligible level of the risk of BSE, there are still even safer alternatives, such as domestic - where every cow is tested before sold - or the beef from Australia, New Zealand, and even China where BSE is reported to be nonexistent in the first place.

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