Japan eying beef rule changes

Sep 7, 2012
by DTN

Japan will probably raise the age limit for beef imports from the U.S. and Canada following a Sept. 5 report from an expert panel.

The age limit would be raised from 20 months to 30 months, and meat from cows aged up to 20 months from France and Netherlands would also be allowed back in if the government adopts as policy the findings of the Expert Committee for Prions.

The prion panel was one of the 14 committees of the Japanese Cabinet’s Food Safety Commission, which was charged last December with assessing the risk of transmission of BSE to humans from consumption of beef up to 30 months from the four countries. It held its final meeting Sept. 5.

A report issued by the panel included data showing that abnormal prions, a type of protein thought to be the cause of BSE, have not been detected in cattle aged 30 months or younger from those countries if specified risk materials were removed.

Specified risk materials are the skull, brain, backbone, trigeminal ganglia (nerves attached to the brain and close to the skull exterior), eyes, spinal cord, distal ileum (a part of the small intestine), and the dorsal root ganglia (nerves attached to the spinal cord and close to the vertebral column). Scientists believe prions concentrate in these areas.

The report concluded that the risk was extremely small of BSE transmission to humans from meat from cattle aged 30 months or younger without SRMs from the U.S., Canada, France and Netherlands.

FSC Director General Masako Kurimoto told DTN the panel would present its report to the Food Safety Commission, which will then hold public hearings on the findings throughout the country.

“Once it will have collected public opinion, the FSC will decide whether to recommend to the MHLW [Ministry for Health, La bour and Welfare] the easing of beef restrictions for the concerned countries,” Kurimoto said.

Both Kurimoto and panel head Takeo Sakai, a veterinarian and professor at Nihon University’s College of Bioresource Sciences, were noncommittal on a timeline, however.

Because of BSE, Japan banned beef from Europe in December 2000, from Canada in May 2003, and from the U.S. the following December.

Japan allowed back U.S. and Canadian beef aged 20 months or less, without SRMs, in December 2005, but closed its doors again to the U.S. meat the following month when backbone was found in a veal shipment. Imports resumed again in August 2006.

The Japanese government last Dec. 22 began the process of easing import restrictions for U.S. and Canadian beef and resuming imports from France and Netherlands. — Richard Smith, DTN