Japan adopts 20-month exemption

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 20, 2004
by WLJ
— U.S. beef acceptance still down the road.
— Japan's 12th case no factor.

Japanese government officials last Wednesday formally announced that they would exempt cattle under 20 months of age from being tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). However, the entry of U.S. beef into Japan will be delayed until the two countries can agree on the science, or verification program, that will be used to factually establish the age of cattle.
USDA officials' reactions varied widely as some indicated they were pleased to know the direction of the situation and others were disappointed that Japan didn't make their testing exemption 24 or 30 months of age.
"We now know what we have to do, but it's disappointing because there is no international scientific standards indicating that cattle under 30 months of age are at ‘major risk' to contract the disease," a high-ranking USDA official told WLJ.
That same official said there will be efforts to get Japan to at least raise the exemption age to 24 months, however, the likelihood of that happening is unlikely. Japanese officials were reiterating, last week, the fact that two of the 12 cases of BSE confirmed in Japan have been in cattle 21 and 23 months of age.
"BSE has been found in cattle under 30 months of age, and not testing for the disease in those cattle risks the health of consumers and our cattle herd, Japanese officials have told us," the USDA spokesman said. "We still are adamant that the risk of younger cattle contracting the disease is near non-existent, however, the Japanese appear to think that any risk is too much."
Two weeks ago, USDA officials indicated the agency might be open to lowering their 30-month exemption to 24 months, and using a combination of dentition and bone ossification to determine the age of cattle.
Bone ossification in particular has been proven to determine cattle under 24 months of age and over that same age threshold, however, it hasn't been shown to be accurate on the specific age of individual animals.
USDA and U.S. beef industry officials were showing some frustration with Japan's 20-month testing exemption because the Japanese weren't open to giving them options on how to verify the age of individual cattle.
"They (the Japanese) are putting on a good show right now, but their protectionism is still shining through," a Washington, DC, beef trade lobbyist told WLJ. "How are we to move forward when they aren't giving us any specifics as to what technology or the kind of program to use that would allow us to move forward with accessing their market. It's hard to understand why they are being so hard to deal with when both (Japanese) consumers and restauranteurs are anxious to get U.S. beef back into their diets and menus, respectively."
Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been asked to accept USDA's pending individual animal identification program as the verification tool for cattle age, however, a MAFF statement indicates it is skeptical of such a program's reliability.
"Determinations of cattle age by ranchers on a voluntary basis lack credibility," a MAFF statement said. "We have asked USDA to provide proof of animals' ages in a scientifically valid manner and compensation be paid (to Japan) if problems arise."
Last week's announcement that Japan had confirmed its 12th case of BSE was not thought to be of any consequence to the ongoing U.S., Japan beef trade discussion. Most officials said the fact the most recent case was in a five-year-old cow made it a non-issue in the broad scheme of things. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor


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