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USDA Overstepping?

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Consumers still have a beef with U.S. imports

I lunched the other day at a neighborhood eatery. I usually have noodles for lunch, but I decided to order a beef dish. The only item available that day was hanbagu teishoku (hamburger steak set), so I bought that for 620 yen.

The burger was topped with rich brown gravy. Breaking off a piece with my chopsticks, I put the sweet-salty morsel in my mouth and was pleasantly surprised that it was actually quite good. It went very well with plain steamed rice, too.

I then wondered how I would react, were the restaurant owner to say to me, "Isn't it good? It's American beef." Tasty as it was, I probably would have enjoyed my lunch less.

Japan is expected to resume U.S. beef imports before the end of the year. This will be on the condition that imports are limited to cattle aged 20 months or younger. This is because, at this age, the animals are believed unlikely to carry substances that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). In addition, all contamination-prone parts-the brains and spinal cord, for instance-will have been removed.

On Wednesday, however, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced that he would ask Japan to raise the age limit of the animals to 30 months. His statement suggested he would play hardball, confident that he could talk Tokyo into anything once the imports are resumed.

I think Johanns ought to be informed of the results of a recent Asahi Shimbun opinion survey on U.S. beef imports. About two-thirds of the respondents were opposed to the resumption of imports, and just as many said they, "would not want to eat American beef even after it comes back on the market." In other words, many Japanese do not trust the safety of American beef while there are also those who intend to just wait and see for the time being.

I believe the survey figures are an indication that Japanese consumers are beginning to outgrow their former tendency to welcome any beef if it's cheap and tastes good.

I doubt that the resumption of U.S. beef imports will automatically result in a surge of U.S. imports. After all, beef is only one kind of meat, and the United States is only one of many beef producers around the world.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 4(IHT/Asahi: November 5,2005)


Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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Japan Won't Ease Conditions For Lifting U.S. Beef Ban

TOKYO (AP)--Japan on Friday rebuffed Washington's demands that Tokyo ease its terms for lifting a ban on U.S. beef imports, imposed two years ago because of fears of `mad cow' disease.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had earlier insisted that cows younger than 30 months are considered safe from `mad cow' disease, and can be imported. Japan wants to set the limit at 21 months.

"We have received no formal request (from Washington), and even if we did receive one, we're not in a position to say yes," Japan's Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said Friday.

He said Japan would study the issue.

"Our focus is on ensuring safety and gaining public consent," he said.

Tokyo banned U.S. beef in December 2003 after the discovery of the first U.S. case of `mad cow' disease.

Japan was then the most lucrative overseas market for U.S. beef, and an increasingly impatient Washington has pushed hard for the ban to be lifted.

Earlier this week, Japan's food safety commission approved a report saying the `mad cow' disease risk in U.S. beef was minuscule as long as imports were limited to meat from cows under 21 months, and all brain and spinal cord matter was removed.

Japan is expected to reach a decision on the matter by the end of the year, after month-long public hearings that began this week.

Johanns has criticized the commission's report, saying the conditions are too stringent.

"The science is very, very clear that in animals under 30 months, you just don't have a (mad cow disease) problem," Johanns said Thursday. "So obviously we hope to continue to open up the marketplace."

Many scientists believe that beef from cattle infected with `mad cow' disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can cause a fatal brain disorder in humans.

Japanese consumers remain deeply wary of U.S. beef, with recent polls showing that nearly 70% opposed lifting the ban.

Source: Dow Jones Newswire

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