U.S., Japan to meet on BSE, age verification

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Jan 14, 2005
by WLJ
A U.S. beef trade delegation is scheduled to visit Tokyo later in the week of Jan. 17 in a renewed effort to convince Japan that USDA’s beef grading system can reliably determine the age of cattle without birth records. Age verification approval is needed before Japan is willing to reopen its border to U.S. beef.
Japan requires that the U.S. be able to prove that cattle slaughtered for beef export would be 20 months old or younger before it eases a ban imposed after the U.S. announced the finding of a case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in December 2003.
USDA sent a previous delegation to Tokyo early last month to show Japanese officials the results of a study that shows the agency's carcass grading program can prove that cattle slaughtered for beef export are 20 months or younger.
USDA sources said the upcoming meeting will follow-up those discussions, which were also held in Tokyo at the time.
After Japanese and U.S. officials met in Tokyo Dec. 16-17, Japan's government issued a press release predicting another such meeting "as soon as practically possible" so that a "common understanding" could be reached. However, those same officials appeared to be skeptical about the U.S. grading system being reliable in determining age of cattle.
U.S. beef industry representatives and USDA officials have both stressed the importance of Japan accepting USDA's research showing that cattle age verification is possible. If they don’t agree to that protocol and want birth records to be part of the renewal of trade, it is thought only 5-18 percent of the last U.S. calf crop may be eligible for processing for beef destined for Japan. Fewer than 25 percent of U.S. cattle born in 2004 have documented birth records. A large portion of those cattle are from registered, purebred cowherds that aren’t destined for commercial beef production.
Japan was the largest market for U.S. beef before it implemented the ban in reaction to the discovery of a case of BSE discovered in Washington state. — WLJ