Japan Takes Another Step in Trade Resumption

New research shows Japanese consumers less concerned about BSE.

One more hurdle has been cleared in resuming U.S. beef trade with Japan. Reports indicate Japan's Food Safety Commission has agreed to uphold a recommendation by its subcommittee to waive testing for cattle aged 20 months or younger.

The committee made the final decision after reviewing public comments consisting of 1,250 letters. Of those 70% voiced opposition to lifting 100% testing, which Japan now uses.

The Japanese agriculture and health ministries will now need to decide whether or not to allow U.S. beef from cattle under 21 months of age to be allowed back into the food system without testing. This decision could take additional months.

The Food Safety Commission has the final say on the bovine spongiform encephalopathy rules. U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng explains that the commission was created three years ago after the Japanese government told the country that it was safe from having BSE in the country and shortly after finding its first case.

Lynn Heinze, USMEF head of communications, explains that research of Japanese travelers who have visited the United States were not concerned about eating U.S. beef while in the States. Heinze explains that with an average stay of 10-12 days, 87% of respondents indicated they had eaten beef while here. And during the length of stay, they ate beef an average of four to five times. When asked if they would buy U.S. beef is the ban was lifted, two-thirds said they would.

Heinze adds that BSE was not a top-mind issue but seen as a political issue by many consumers in Japan. "The ban exaggerates safety. The problem is that [Japanese] see the ban as evidence that a problem exists and that the lifting of the ban shows that the problem has gone away," he explains. But the safety of the meat remains the same because of the measures of removing specified risk materials.

When Seng was asked whether the pressure the United States' is putting on Japan is helping or hurting, Seng explains it can't be constant pressure 100% of the time. "We want the market to be opened because of science, not pressure," he says. And as long as the pressure is diplomatic, it is not doing too much harm while still keeping the issue in the minds of top Japanese officials.

The U.S. has submitted Japan everything it needs as far as a proposal, but Seng says they still might have questions on that proposal. Next week Japan is sending a team to the U.S. for further talks.

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