Japan backs away from plan to ban U.S. beef

Oct 16, 2009
by DTN
Japan backs away from plan to ban U.S. beef

Despite strong election campaign rhetoric by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), it appears DPJ is continuing the previous Liberal Democratic Party’s anti- BSE policies.

DPJ left a loophole. In its election “Manifesto,” DPJ stated it would “respond to violations of conditions on import of beef products with an immediate total ban on importation.” The Japanese text included the word “nado,” usually translated as “etc.” or “and so on.”

In a Sept. 2 e-mail, DPJ’s international department deputy manager, Alison Barnicle, told DTN the word “nado” meant in this sentence “or other measures.” The phrase “or other measures” was somehow missing from the manifesto’s original English translation.

“In other words, we will look at the circumstances surrounding a particular violation of the import conditions, and then decide what action to take,” Barnicle said.

Japanese authorities have done just that—banning only shipments from the Tyson Fresh Meat processing plant in Lexington, NE, following an export-to-Japan rule violation.

“We have decided, in this case, to ban shipments only from that one plant,” Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) Animal Health Division Deputy Director Noboru Kawamoto told DTN.

MAFF and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) reported on Oct. 10 finding backbone in a 35-pound (16-kilogram) box of chilled beef, one of a 732-box, 15-ton shipment imported Sept. 16 from the Tyson plant by Tokyo-based importer TMC. The backbone was found by a company that bought beef from TMC.

In press releases, MAFF and MHLW said they are looking for other specified risk materials (SRMs) in the remaining boxes imported from the Tyson plant.

Japan first banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 because of BSE concerns. In July 2006, Japan resumed imports of meat from cattle aged up to 20 months on condition spinal cord and other SRMs are removed.

U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Japan director Susumu Harada told DTN that MAFF’s action is rational and was rather quietly received by the Japanese industry and media.

“We have heard no specific voices of further concern,” Harada said.

Vertebrae are not an SRM under international standards. “This is defined so between Japan and the U.S. (because it is) an emotional issue among Japanese consumers,” he said.

Exporters should also not expect any change soon in Japan’s age limit requirement. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke with Japanese Ag Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu on Oct. 9 during a U.S. visit. He requested that Tokyo lift all its BSE-related controls and fully open its beef market. Japan says it tests every cow for BSE and the U.S. does not.

As Japanese Kyodo News Agency explained in a report on the Vilsack-Akamatsu talks, Tokyo and Washington are at loggerheads. — Richard Smith, DTN