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Japan reopens its market to U.S. beef.

Japan last week announced it is resuming imports of U.S. beef, ending a ban imposed in January due to concerns about BSE. Only boneless beef from animal 20 months of age and younger will be accepted. And only 34 of 35 U.S. beef processing facilities inspected over the past month by Japanese officials will be eligible to ship product to Japan immediately. Japanese Health Minister Jiro Kawasaki announced the lifting of the ban after the Agriculture Ministry's mad cow advisory committee approved a resumption in imports. "We think it is possible to guarantee safety so long as the U.S. observes its export program to Japan," Kawasaki said. "We strongly hope that the U.S. will ensure compliance with the export program."

USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said that the U.S. system for handling beef is "in full compliance with Japan's import requirements" and that USDA has provided Japan with "clear, scientific data confirming that American beef is extremely safe." In 2003, before Japan imposed a ban on imports of U.S. beef, the United States exported $1.4 billion worth of beef and beef products to Japan.

The decision to resume U.S. beef purchases was made after Japanese inspectors checked meatpacking plants in the U.S. that were certified to export to Japan and found 34 of the 35 plants inspected qualified. Products from the 34 plants are likely to arrive in Japan in August, according to Japanese press accounts. Only facilities whose safeguards meet Japanese standards are authorized to resume exports to Japan. The Japanese inspectors said they would keep a ban on imports from a beef plant in Brawley, California, which is now changing its operations manual.

Japanese inspectors on July 23 returned from a month-long tour of 35 facilities in the U.S. to evaluate whether they comply with safeguards against mad cow disease. Japan requested the tour in June as a condition for its agreement in principle to resume imports. Japan's Kawasaki said the inspectors found no problems at 20 of the 35 facilities. Thirteen of the 15 facilities with problems had made sufficient improvements to be eligible for export to Japan, he said. Of the remaining pair, one facility, as previously noted, will be kept under close surveillance while the other's exports will not be allowed in Japan, he said. Japan's Health Ministry will also monitor how well the U.S. observes its export verification program over the next six months, according to a ministry statement.

"We expect the U.S. to act in line with the rule, and Japan will tighten checking of their compliance," Japanese Health Minister Jiro Kawasaki said. He added he would suspend U.S. beef imports again if Japanese inspectors find banned material in beef shipments after the resumption of imports. "If a similar violation recurs, I will be asked to take responsibility for what I have decided today," he said. No more U.S. beef plants beyond the ones already approved will be allowed to export to Japan for at least six months. In the meantime--approved beef plants will be subject to no-notice inspections by Japanese officials. And U.S. beef currently stranded at Japanese ports won't be cleared through customs until Japan decides the market re-opening has gone smoothly--a process that could take as long as three months.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials said the country remains undecided about when it will reopen its market to U.S. beef imports. South Korea wants U.S. plants to segregate native animals from those imported from Canada and other countries, and to use separate sets of slaughter tools for cattle 30 months of age and under, and cattle over 30 months of age. South Korea will accept only boneless beef from the younger animals, and says that using the same tools risks contamination from older cattle, which are at greater risk of contracting BSE.
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Publication:Food & Drink Weekly
Date:Jul 31, 2006
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