Monday, January 28, 2013

Japan Releases New Protocols for US Beef

Starting next month, more American beef will be crossing the border into Japan.

The Japanese government announced today that it approved new protocols for US beef imports that will allow beef from cattle slaughtered under 30 months of age. Previously, Japan would only accept US beef exports from cattle slaughtered under 20 months of age, due to concerns about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopahy.

In addition, the US and Japanese governments agreed to regular and ad hoc consultations to review progress under the protocols and address any issues that may arise.

"This is an important step forward in our relationship with Japan and [a] welcomed opportunity to expand exports into a growing market with enormous potential," Kent Bacus, National Cattlemen's Beef Association associate director of legislative affairs, said in an email message this morning. "We have been working to expand access into Japan for almost 10 years."

In 2003, Japan banned US beef following detection of a BSE-positive animal in the country. The market was partially reopened in 2006 to allow for animals slaughtered at 20 months or younger, according to information from the US Trade Representative. Five years later, in December 2011, Japan's independent Food Safety Commission initiated a risk assessment to examine raising the maximum age of US and other foreign beef and beef products for export to Japan.

The results of the risk assessment were released in October 2012. Japan and the US then entered into consultations to revise the import requirements, including raising the age of cattle allowed to 30 months or younger. The definition of specified risk materials -- certain cattle tissues that can carry the BSE agent -- was redefined as well to align more closely with international standards of the World Organization for Animal Health.

It is estimated that this protocol change will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional US beef exports, according to a news release from NCBA.

Above: Kari Underly demonstrates beef cutting
at a GBB workshop
Summer 2012
Japan was the second-largest export market for US beef through November 2012, totaling $849 million and nearly 130,000 metric tons, according to data from NCBA. In addition, according to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the agreement "goes a long way toward normalizing trade with Japan" by addressing restrictions the country introduced in response to BSE.

"This is great news for cattlemen and women and is a significat milestone in our trading relationship with Japan," NCBA President J.D. Alexander said in the news release. "Japan is a great market for US beef and we look forward to continuing to meet Japanese consumer demands."

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called the move a continued step in this "most successful period in history for America's agriculture sector."

"We will continue to break down barriers and expand access for high-quality, save and wholesome US food and agricultural products to Japan and around the world," Vilsack said in a Trade Representative news release.

The new trade protocols take effect Feb. 1.

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