Withdrawing ‘A20' rule pondered by USDA

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 21, 2005
by WLJ
Officials with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed with WLJ last week that they are considering pulling the 20-month-and-under cattle rule from Japanese consideration if the Pacific Rim nation continues to refuse to move forward with the process to reopen its border to U.S. beef. In addition, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said his agency may not hand over any more documentation on the BSE issue until Japan makes that “good faith effort.”
“We have done everything they have asked for and more as it concerns making sure BSE has no chance of entering their country,” one USDA trade official told WLJ. “We are very frustrated the Japanese haven’t had the courtesy to move forward in an expeditious and efficient manner to resolve this issue. It’s five months since we came up with the original agreement and they aren’t any further along in the process than they were in early October.”
In meetings with members of Japan’s ministries of health and agriculture earlier this month, USDA representatives indicated the previously proposed “A20" rule could be pulled in an effort to try to get beef from cattle up to 30 months of age approved in the future.
Under the A20 rule, USDA would be allowed to use current grading methods to determine cattle that are 17 months of age or younger with beef from those animals being eligible for export to Japan. In addition, cattle that have a verified paper trail showing they are 20 months or younger will also be eligible for export.
However, USDA officials have said it appears Japan cares very little about international science that shows younger cattle are at very low risk of carrying the prion responsible for the disease and that they may pull A20 to go after a less restrictive export program.
“It doesn’t seem to matter whether we go 20 or 30 months right now; the Japanese appear to want to play hard ball and we can do that,” a USDA spokesman said. “We have science on our side in both instances and we can call Japan out on that in the long run.
“The concession to only ship beef from cattle 20 months and younger was a special marketing program. If the Japanese don’t ever act on that, we ought to go back to international standard which is you can safely trade meat from animals of any age and not test any animals under 30 months of age.”
In addition, Johanns last Wednesday said if Japan doesn’t reciprocate in some manner over the very near future he will look into not complying with future requests for sending further documentation on the issue.
He pointed out, during a press briefing, that it took over seven months for Japan to take the original documentation from USDA and come up with a preliminary decision from Japan’s Food Safety Commission (FSC) that younger beef presented a “negligible” to “very minimum” risk of being infected with BSE.
“We need to have some preliminary action now,” Johanns said. If the FSC refuses to move forward with changing rules regarding testing of cattle for BSE, Johanns indicated he would stall the process even further by denying Japan’s ability to look at any further documentation.