SALEM, Ohio – Almost two years after mad cow disease prompted Japan to shut its border to U.S. beef, trade has now resumed.
Japan had been the largest consumer of U.S. beef exports, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association estimates the nation’s cattle industry lost $3.14 billion each year the border was closed.
The agreement came Dec. 12 and the USDA anticipated the first shipment of beef would be sent to Japan within 10 days.
Restrictions. Although Japan lifted the ban, it does not come without restrictions.
Japan will only accept beef and beef products from animals 20 months of age or younger. In addition, there will be export verification requirements.
U.S. Agricultural Secretary Mike Johanns said he expected a Japanese group to begin inspecting U.S. export plants immediately.
Export value. Japan closed its border Christmas Eve 2003 after mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found in a cow in Washington.
That same year, the U.S. exported $1.4 billion worth of beef and beef products to Japan, according to Johanns.
But he did not speculate at what that export value could be in 2006.
“I am optimistic,” he said at a news conference Dec. 12. “I think the industry will adjust very quickly. Beef under 20 months will start moving through these plants and then to Japan.”
Japanese beef. In a reciprocal move, the U.S. announced it was also relaxing its restrictions on Japanese beef.
Since Japan’s first case of mad cow disease in 2001, the U.S. has banned meat from that country. In almost five years, Japan has found 21 cases of the brain-wasting disease.
The amended regulations now say under certain conditions, whole cuts of boneless beef from Japan will be allowed into the U.S.
Those provisions include the beef being prepared at a facility approved by the Federal Meat Inspection Act and specified-risk materials being removed.
Remaining closed. Although Japan has reopened its border, many other countries’ boundaries remain closed.
“While Japan’s announcement is an important step forward, much work lies ahead to reopen the remaining 40-plus markets around the world that still are closed to U.S. beef exports, especially with regard to the Asian market share that for the past two years has been captured by Australia,” said Leo McDonnell, president of R-CALF USA.
Johanns agreed and said it’s time for Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries to also open their markets to U.S. beef.