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U.S. meat industry sees no end yet to Japanese ban

by 5m Editor
21 December 2004, at 12:00am

JAPAN - No end is in sight to Japan's ban on imports of a U.S. beef, the head of a U.S. beef industry delegation said on Tuesday after a two-day visit to Japan aimed at speeding efforts to ease the ban.

Japan was the top foreign market for U.S. beef until it suspended imports after the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in Washington State a year ago. The move halted trade worth roughly $1.4 billion a year.

After months of talks, Tokyo and Washington agreed in October that Japan would resume imports of U.S. beef from cattle aged 20 months or younger, but no agreement has been reached on details such as how to confirm an animal's age.

Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute, told reporters the aim of the visit was to ask about implementation of the October agreement and respond to questions and concerns to help speed its implementation.

"It is clear from our two days of discussions that much work needs to be done on both sides, and that a market re-opening solution does not appear to be imminent," Boyle said.

The institute is a trade group representing U.S. meat packers and processors.

The delegation, which met Japanese government and industry officials, included Terry Stokes, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Philip Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

The heads of leading meat firms Tyson Foods Inc, Cargill Meat Solutions, National Beef Packing Co. and Swift & Co. Inc. were also in the delegation.

The visit came a week after the latest two-day meeting between experts from Japan and the United States.

A Japanese Farm Ministry official said on Monday that Japan and the United States made some progress at last week's talks but that more discussion was needed.

The United States, unlike Japan, has no system that records the date of birth for all domestic cattle, making it more difficult to confirm the precise age of an animal.

ABIDING BY REGULATIONS

At Tuesday's news conference, Boyle denied allegations made by the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals that U.S. meat plants are allowing specific risk material (SRM) to enter the food supply in violation of strict government regulations.

"It is definitely inconsistent with our regulations and practices, but indeed those types of individual comments should not influence negotiations to re-open the market here in Japan," he said.

He said U.S. meat plants were complying with regulations.

The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) has also disagreed with the union, saying no prohibited cattle parts were slipping into the food supply.

Humans can contract a variant form of mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by consuming contaminated meat, although there have been no reports of BSE in Japan.

To protect consumers and prevent the spread of BSE, the USDA has banned SRM, which include brains, spinal cord and eyes.

"I think it is very accurate to say that the U.S. meat packing industry has suffered enormously because of the disruption of trade as a result of our single positive diagnosis of a BSE cow in Washington state," Boyle said.

The U.S. industry's disappointment in seeing a year pass without a solution was palpable.

"We hope that the fact that all of us are gathered here today so close to our Christmas holiday sends a strong signal about how much we value the Japanese market," he said.

Source: Reuters - 21st December 2004

5m Editor