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Johanns: No more beef documents for Japan

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Feb 10, 2005
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Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns urged Japan to announce a specific timetable for reopening its market to American beef, preferably while Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice is in Japan on Friday and Saturday. During a brief press conference Tuesday, Johanns said that the U.S. is getting increasingly frustrated with the delay in reopening the border, and said that he has no intention of providing more documents about the beef industry, as requested by the Japanese. The U.S. has already provided everything the Japanese need to know, he said, according to Jiji News Service.

That may not be a wise decision. A report in The Daily Yomiuri, Japan's second-largest daily newspaper, detailed some of the behind-the-scenes wrangling among members of the Food Safety Commission's panel of experts, which eventually concluded that beef from cattle under 20 months of age presented only a "negligible" to "very small" risk to human health. The process took over seven months to complete because, in part, the panel had to research intensively to buttress even apparently obvious information. In some cases, it took a lot of time to gain access to key documents.

Findings were delayed by even more prosaic concerns. The panel, chaired by a Tokyo University professor, was made up of professionals from academe and industry from across the country, all of whom had full-time jobs, and getting them together frequently was impossible.

Now that the panel has made the relatively easy decision that beef from younger cattle is not likely to be dangerous to humans, it must examine the safety of allowing U.S. beef into the market, a far more problematic issue. The Japanese report closes with this observation: "(The panel) must start now to make preparations, such as collecting data, to speed up deliberations as much as possible." In light of that apparent need for documentation, Johanns' refusal to supply more data may turn out to be problematic.

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