Beef talks with Japan to resume soon

May 7, 2010
by DTN

Japanese and U.S. officials will meet soon, perhaps as early as this month, for the first in a series of planned sessions to discuss improving beef trade between the two countries, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last Tuesday.

Vilsack initially announced plans for a series of meetings last month after he met in Tokyo with Japan’s minister of Agricul ture,

Forestry and Fisheries, Hirotaka Akamatsu.

Vilsack said the two countries are now in the process of designating officials to staff the meeting and choosing the location and specific dates—either in May or June.

Japan is a major importer of U.S. beef but now buys a lot less beef than it did before bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was first discovered in the U.S. in December 2003. Japan’s immediate reaction at the time was to ban U.S. beef, but imports resumed in 2005 under restrictions that allowed only meat from cattle slaughtered before the animals reached 21 months of age.

Japan believes the risk of BSE contamination to be greater when beef comes from older cattle, but the U.S. and the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health, an international standard-setting body known also as the OIE, agree there should be no cattle-age restrictions on beef.

BSE is a degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle and is always fatal. Humans who eat contaminated beef can contract variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The primary goal is to get Japan to completely open its market to U.S. beef regardless of how old the cattle were at slaughter, USDA Undersecretary Jim Miller said last week, although it will be up to negotiators on how the two countries get to that point.

The Japanese may not be able to get “to get to that final stage in one step, and we would be willing to discuss one or more interim steps that could be taken,” Miller said. — DTN