Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Beef imports: a bureaucratic brain eater for Tokyo

Japan used to be the largest importer of US beef, stopped the imports after mad cow disease was detected in an American herd in late 2003 and has only resumed limited imports since then. A recent news that a North Dakota company is recalling 25000 pounds of beef over fears of mad cow disease won't help the PR visit of the American Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to Japan. The mad cow disease, the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy can cause a deadly brain wasting disease in humans.

Vilsack's visit to Japan "is a renewed attempt to settle the long-running dispute", but Japan's Agriculture Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said yesterday he "has no plan to ask the government's food safety commission to review US beef", even if Vilsack demands it during their meeting scheduled for Thursday.

Japan agreed in 2005 to resume limited American beef imports from cattle under 20 months of age, except for high-risk parts such as brains and spine bones. Vilsack is expected to again push for the restrictions to be softened to include cattle up to 30 months old. Japan's U.S. beef imports now stand at only around 10 percent of their former peak, and Japan has periodically frozen imports by companies whenever it found banned cattle parts in shipments. In the past four years, defending its own national beef trade, Japan suspended shipment from 13 U.S. meat packers, taking up to several months to allow them to resume business. One of them still remains restricted, a Japanese farm ministry official said.

Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan have frequently banned imports of U.S. beef due to fears of mad cow disease

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