‘A40' agreed to by Japanese politicians

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Feb 21, 2005
by WLJ
USDA cleared a second hurdle in trying to partially regain beef trade with Japan as the ruling political party in the Pacific Rim nation last Wednesday endorsed a proposal designed to verify the age of U.S. cattle eligible to produce beef for export.
The move by a panel of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) members helps move Tokyo a step closer to easing its 14-month-old import ban on American beef, which has kept U.S. beef from accessing Japan’s beef market.
Prior to the LDP’s blessing, a panel of food safety and consumer health experts accepted a U.S.-proposed beef grading method that would accurately identify and separate cattle unlikely to have bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The LDP panel accepted that same conclusion last Wednesday. However, the final decision lies with the government's Food Safety Commission (FSC). LDP’s approval of a program was considered a “very good omen” by USDA sources who said the political party has been a vehement opponent of reopening the Japanese border to U.S. beef.
Under the USDA proposal, U.S. beef would be allowed to be shipped to Japan if the cattle producing that beef fit a grading category known as ‘A40' or if they have a verifiable paper trail with date of birth information. A40 cattle are animals that can be proven to be between the age of 12-17 months, well within the 20-month-or-under restriction Japan is advocating. The determination of that age window is made through evaluating the carcass of the animal, particularly vertebrae and cartilage, USDA scientists have indicated.
Japan tentatively agreed late last year to resume importing U.S. beef from cattle 20 months or younger. The two sides, however, had long argued over how to authenticate the age of cattle, but the latest meat grading system proposed by U.S. officials addresses that issue.
According to Chuck Lambert, deputy under secretary for regulatory and marketing programs, the A40 proposal now needs to be ratified by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fishery and Forestry (MAFF) and Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW). Upon that being completed, Lambert said it is up to FSC to determine changes to domestic BSE testing policy and then work on changes to import regulations.
“We still have two major (regulatory) steps to maneuver in Japan,” Lambert said. “We have given them the science and what appears to be an acceptable resolution to the situation, and we have to wait on their acceptance of that now.”
A timeframe for the regulatory process was not known last week. Most USDA officials indicated that it would still be early summer before the first load of U.S. beef might be on its way to Japan.
Prior to BSE being found in Washington state in December 2003, U.S. beef exports to Japan totaled $1.5-1.7 billion. — WLJ