Help offered in U.S., Japan beef dispute

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 14, 2005
by WLJ
Bernard Vallat, the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), said his group would use scientific means to help settle a beef trade dispute between Japan and the United States, according to a Reuters’ news report.
Vallat added that the OIE was ready to mediate talks if both countries made the request.
Japan banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 after the United States discovered its only case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Japan insisted that the U.S. test all of the cattle presented for slaughter for BSE. In October 2004, the two countries agreed to resume shipments of beef from animals 20 months old or younger, which are considered at low risk for the disease. However, the deal stalled as the two sides debate how to accurately determine the age of the beef cattle.
“The OIE will be open to help if Japan and the United States agree ... The OIE could help with the use of our scientists, but it will be a scientific mediation, not a political mediation, not an economical mediation,” Vallat told Reuters in an interview. Vallat said it was difficult to comment on the progress of the talks between the two countries.
"I'm not sure whether the discussions are based on OIE standards because of other problems than science ... there are social, political and economical problems, so it's difficult to give an opinion in this context," he said.
Vallat is in Japan to attend the first regional steering committee meeting of the Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases. He is also scheduled to attend at a public meeting on Thursday, which is sponsored by Japan's government-affiliated Food Safety Commission to explain the standards of the OIE related to BSE.
"I will explain our standards and how they are decided and what is the basis and will give details ... but it is not my objective to convince consumers or convince politicians," Vallat said.
The Food Safety Commission, the body responsible for discussing policy changes, is in the process of revising current domestic policy on the testing of cattle for BSE from a blanket test on all cattle to a system that excludes animals aged 20 months or below. Political pressure is increasing in the United States as the U.S. beef industry presses for a quick end to the ban. — WLJ