Japan reviewing restrictions on beef import rules

Nov 4, 2011

An advisory panel of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began the much anticipated review of Japan’s meat import rules last week. Current restrictions in place ban import of beef from cattle over 20 months of age.

The review is to determine whether Japan will revise BSEbased requirements on domestic, U.S. and Canadian beef.

Japan banned imports of U.S. beef in December 2003 when the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was confirmed. It lifted the ban in December 2005, but imposed the current restrictions.

Japan reinstated the import ban in January 2006 after a veal shipment from the U.S. was found to contain part of a backbone, a risk material banned under the bilateral beef trade agreement. The ban was lifted again in July that year under the same conditions.

The number of violations has declined in the last few years, with most occurring in the years following the 2006 BSE concerns.

This is the first review since, and the ministry is considering raising

the age limit to 30 months or less. Its recommendations are expected by the end of the year at the earliest, when they will be used as the issue moves forward to the Food Safety Commission.

The panel is also looking at the definition of specified risk material and will consider whether the nation’s guidelines for testing cattle for the disease are reasonable.

The governments review follows requests from major beef exporters, including the U.S., which has been urging Japan to ease restrictions. France has also asked Tokyo to drop its ban on French beef imports.

An email from U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Economist Erin Daley Borror regarding the review said, “… we are still monitoring the early developments in Japan but we are cautiously optimistic for a change in maybe the first half of next year. Japan will likely address its domestic policy first, then imported product.”

Ten years have passed since the BSE case was discovered and the U.S. is encouraging them to take a science-based look during their discussions.

“Further opening of Japan’s beef market in a mannerthat is based on science, consistent with international standards, and commercially viable, remains a high priority for the U.S. government,” said a USDA spokesman.

Japan has faced similar restrictions and bans following the recent nuclear accident, and the Japanese government has been urging countries to make decisions based on sound science relating to the situation.

Japanese media said the age limit is expected to be raised to 30 months.

During the USMEF 35th Anniversary Strategic Planning Conference last week, discussion centered around Japan’s market, along with a broader global market review with updates from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the ASEAN region.

Dr. Harry Kaiser, a Cornell University economist, presented the findings of his recently completed study on the effectiveness of USMEF’s foreign marketing efforts. “An Economic Analysis of the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s Export Market Development Programs” was commissioned by USMEF to quantify the returns that USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and the beef, pork, corn and soybean checkoff programs receive from their investments in USMEF’s export market development programs. The independent study was funded by USDA and Kaiser was chosen from several researchers who proposed to do the research.

“Basically what we found is very good news,” Kaiser told the audience. “The U.S. Meat Export Federation’s beef and pork market development programs were found to have a positive and statistically significant impact on imports of U.S. red meat in all of the eight markets that were analyzed.”

The economic model showed that combined producer and USDA marketing expenditures increased U.S. red meat exports by more than 30 percent per year.

“If we compare the results of this study to the results of 16 published studies for other commodities, the bottom line is that these US- MEF programs have had a larger impact on import demand than the majority of similar programs for other commodities.”

Bill Rupp, president of JBS USA’s beef division, also addressed the audience on the importance of exports, driving home the critical role the international markets play in his company’s profitability.

“When you look at some of the products that we export, you see a price volatility in some cases,” Rupp said. “But there’s a constant return over what we could expect if we had to ‘disappear’ these products into a domestic market. So I want to say thanks for the great job USMEF does in helping us promote and position our products in the export markets. Clearly, today, we’re not in business without strong international growth.”

John Bellinger, CEO of Food Safety Net and Agri- West International, spoke not only to the importance of exports to the U.S. meat industry, but also to the health of the entire U.S. economy.

“There’s one way for our country to get out of this economic recession,” Bellinger said. “We have to export our way to prosperity.

Do you think China became an economic powerhouse by selling to its own people? They exported. They exported their way out of poverty.

We’re just trying to export our way out of a little recession—China exported its way out of poverty.”

Japan is the third-largest buyer of U.S. beef and in a small setback, suspended imports from a Tyson Foods Inc. meat plant in Hillsdale, IL, a company spokesman said.

The Tyson beef was checked on Oct. 17, but cannot be cleared until an investigation is completed by U.S. authorities. Authorities could not confirm if the beef met Japan’s current beef import age requirements.

Reports said officials stopped the imports because the cargo failed to include the proper documentation. This is the 15th reported violation by U.S. beef suppliers in five years.

Worth Sparkman, Tyson Foods Inc. manager of public relations, released a statement saying, “One of our beef processing plants has been suspended from exporting to Japan pending a review of an order discrepancy.

We are working with the Japanese government to review the facts and it is our hope the matter will be resolved quickly.”

“It is regrettable to make this announcement,” an official from Japan’s health ministry said. It is the first violation case this fiscal year, which started in April 2011, and there was only one case in 2010/11, the official said. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor