US, Japan Reach Agreement-Sorta

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Japan, U.S. agree to resume some beef imports

23 Oct 2004 12:17:32 GMT

By Aya Takada and Chikafumi Hodo

TOKYO, Oct 23 (Reuters)
- Japan and the United States agreed on Saturday to resume imports of some American beef, halted since December after a case of mad cow disease in Washington state, but did not set a date for restarting trade. Before the ban, Japan was the top market for U.S. beef, buying some $1.4 billion a year.

The first high-level talks on the issue in six months produced a framework deal on beef with birth records showing an age up to 20 months. Younger cattle are believed by scientists to carry the lowest risk of the illness. But the two sides failed to reach a deal on how to determine the age of animals without birth records, leaving the bulk of U.S. beef shipments to Japan on hold. Cattle with birth records account for about only 10 percent of all American cattle, a Japanese Agriculture Ministry official said.

"We have been able to conclude a framework agreement that will permit the resumption of trade in beef and beef products between our two countries," U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary J.B. Penn told reporters after the meeting.

The meeting of senior officials from both countries had been scheduled to end on Friday, but the talks were extended due to disagreement on how to identify the age of American cattle. Japan records the date of birth of all domestic cattle, but the United States has no such system, and it is difficult to determine a precise age.

At the meeting U.S. officials said they could estimate the age of cattle by checking the maturity of meat and bones. But Japanese officials said the method was not accurate enough. The two countries will continue expert-level talks to find out a way to determine cattle age, aiming for a deal within 45 days, Japanese officials said. Penn said age would be determined by either production records or physiological examination.

Penn added that the United States would remove specific risk material from all cattle before the meat is shipped to Japan.


Japanese officials said they were not sure when beef trade would restart, but said imports could resume before July 2005. Japan can resume U.S. beef imports after the government obtains an approval for a new mad cow test policy from Japan's Food Safety Commission and revises domestic rules and regulations.

Japan is awaiting final approval from the commission for its plan to exclude animals aged 20 months or younger from its policy of blanket-testing all cattle for mad cow disease -- formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Humans can contract a variant of the deadly disease by eating contaminated meat.

Penn said both countries needed to clear several regulatory hurdles, such as meat plant inspection procedures and risk assessment, before seeing an actual resumption. "Some amount of time will be required for those processes to be completed, but we are talking here in a matter of weeks, and I think that it'll be different in the United States than it is for Japan," Penn said.

Japan's policy of testing all cattle began in October 2001 after its own first case of BSE in September that year. There have been 14 confirmed cases in Japan since.

Japan plans to change the test policy, based on reports compiled last month by the Food Safety Commission. In the report, the commission acknowledged that the youngest case of BSE found in Japan was in an animal aged 21 months, and that it is hard to detect the disease in younger animals using the test methods now available.

At the meeting, U.S. officials said they wanted the 20-month threshold to be a tentative condition to allow the resumption of beef trade between the two countries. The limit, they said, should eventually be raised to the internationally accepted level of 30 months.
From Beef cow-calf weekly

Japan, U.S. Reach Agreement On Resuming Beef Trade
Japan has blocked all beef trade with the U.S. for the past 10 months, but cattlemen are now one step closer to ending the beef ban. U.S. and Japanese officials reached an agreement Saturday, Oct. 23, that will permit some form of resumption of beef trade between the two countries.

"The agreement reached in Tokyo will enable our beef trade to resume under a special marketing program," says Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. "We then will review that program after six months of operation, with a view toward returning trade to more normal patterns."

After three days of prolonged negotiations, the U.S. and Japanese governments developed a framework agreement to resume beef trade after both countries complete regulatory processes. Japan is revising domestic regulations in regards to BSE cattle testing requirements, and the U.S. will be drafting rules on the importation of Japanese specialty beef.

Besides laying the ground rules for export resumption, officials also determined that if a case of BSE is found again in either country, trade should not be interrupted.

"Both the United States and Japan have agreed that their respective food safety systems are sufficiently robust to assure that the potential of additional cases in either country will not interrupt future trade," says Phil Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

"This is welcome news for U.S. cattlemen and the U.S. economy," says Jan Lyons, National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) president and beef producer from Manhattan, KS. "It is an important first step toward regaining full access to the largest export market for U.S. beef, and it serves as a gateway for worldwide resumption of U.S. beef exports."

Resuming exports
In a news conference, J.B. Penn, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, outlined the steps the U.S. must take to comply with the agreement in order to resume exports. According to Penn, key points the U.S. must comply with include:
Implementing a marketing program that will include certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and only supply products and beef from animals 20 months of
Specified risk materials will be removed from animals of all ages.
Continue the joint scientific consultations that have been ongoing since April. Penn says the consultations have been beneficial to both sides.
Variety meats will only be shipped from cattle 20 months of age or younger. "In addition, we will be conducting a special study in consultation with Japanese experts to verify that only carcasses from animals 20 months of age or younger are shipped to Japan," Penn adds.
Age determinations
The rules indicate that animals must be traceable to live animal production records that show the animals were 20 months of age or younger at harvest. According to USDA two methods can be used to determine the age of animals.
Production records that include individual birth dates, artificial insemination records, and herd birth records.
The USDA is also testing a physiological grading system that uses correlations between chronological age and physiological characteristics to determine animal eligibility for export.
Penn says that the resumption of trade is still a few weeks away; as both countries continue to evaluate procedures, conduct risk assessments, plant inspections and regulatory processes before actual shipments can resume.

"Cattlemen must remember that today's news doesn't mean the United States will instantaneously regain the same market share in Japan that we had Dec. 22, 2003," cautions Gregg Doud, NCBA chief economist. "We have a lot of work to do to regain our position as the leader in this market."
-- Stephanie Veldman

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