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Japan agrees to partially lift beef ban subject to sending inspectors to US: neither American industry nor Japanese consumer groups happy with outcome.

Japan has agreed to lift its ban on US beef imports, despite opposition from consumer groups but with the proviso that Japanese inspectors can "audit" American meat processing plants, the two governments said June 21 in a joint statement.

Meanwhile, China, which seemed to be dragging its heels on resumption of US imports, after having agreed in April to reopen its market by June 30, finally acted after a number of of US senators fired off a letter to the Chinese president June 27 complaining about the delay.

Japanese audit teams were to arrive in the United States June 24 and complete their work by July 21, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said. The American Meat Institute (AMI) had expressed its opposition to giving the Japanese any say over US plants.

"Although the agreement is another step toward the resumption of beef trade with Japan, I will not be satisfied until US beef is once again accepted into the Japanese market," said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. "I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of Japan recognizing the US food safety inspection system as a single, effective system and acting accordingly in resuming trade."

The ban, first imposed in 2003 over concerns that US beef might be infected with mad cow disease, was lifted at the end of last year for just a month before Japan again halted US beef shipments in January. The first ban had to do with Mad Cow Disease being found in a Canadian cow that died in the United States; the renewed ban was sparked by a shipment of prohibited spinal cord material that US officials said was just a mistake.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was impatient with US impatience over lifting the ban. "The US thought we were slow in reaching this decision, while we thought otherwise," he told reporters. "Our opinions were different, so we discussed the issue. It's a good agreement." Hiroaki Ogura, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, stressed that it isn't over until it's over: "Japan agreed to resume US beef imports on the condition that we find no further problems during onsite inspections," he stressed.

Opposition party leaders and consumer groups criticized the decision as hasty. The Japan Consumers Union said in a statement that it was reached for political reasons without regard for food safety or consumer health. Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima characterized the decision as "a souvenir" for Koizumi to give to President Bush during his visit at the end of June, according to Kyodo News agency.

Back in the United States, the AMI gave cautious approval to the latest agreement, but pointed out that lifting of the ban is only partial, with older beef still prohibited and Japan given the prerogative of deciding which US plants meet its standards for export licenses.

"The agreement to move toward restarting partial trade in US beef from animals 20 months and younger is yet another step toward a limited restoration of beef trade with Japan," the industry group said. "Although we welcome the development by the two governments, it's important to recognize that even when trade eventually resumes, the vast majority of the US beef supply will remain ineligible for export to Japan due to the age limitation on cattle.

"US beef of all ages is safe," the AMI insisted. "The restrictive conditions that continue to be imposed by this agreement with the Government of Japan are inconsistent with OIE [World Organization for Animal Health] standards for international beef trade. OIE guidelines clearly provide that there should be no cattle age requirement imposed on beef from a country with a low level risk from BSE--like the United States--because effective and appropriate risk mitigation measures have been ha place for many years."

Chinese Half Measures

The People's Republic of China, too, reopened imports of US beef on a limited basis--that is, only boneless cuts of beef from cattle under 30 months of age. The AMI promptly criticized the action as "disappointing and inconsistent with international standards."

Twenty-seven senators signed the letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao calling on him to resume beef trade with the United States. Led by Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, they called on the PRC to take the steps necessary to restore beef trade between the two countries. "Resuming beef trade between our countries is a top priority," their letter stated.

In April, during President Hu's visit to the US, China agreed to conditionally resume imports of American beef by June 30. While this meeting was marked by significant progress, the senators noted that they were "disappointed and concerned that China has yet to take the steps necessary to allow beef exports to resume."

China had suspended beef trade with the US in 2003 over the same incident that triggered the Japanese ban. Prior to the suspension, China was the ninth largest export destination for US beef. The agreement to end the ban was motivated in part, it was said at the time, by the need to reduce a massive trade deficit.

"China has agreed to reopen its market to US beef subject to completion of the technical protocol," the April statement said. The agreement came following the 17th US-China Joint Commission of Commerce meeting in Washington, DC, and--much as with the later Japanese agreement--called for a science-based trading protocol consistent with OIE guidelines.

In yet another related move, Canada agreed June 29 to resume imports of US beef from all classes, including breeding stock, subject to appropriate safeguards and exclusion of specified "risk materials."
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Title Annotation:Warehousing World
Author:Pierce, J.J.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Article Type:Industry overview
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:923
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