Asia sees little impact from 3rd US mad cow case

ASIA - Japan and South Korea said the discovery of a third case of mad cow disease in the U.S. would have no impact on plans to resume U.S. beef imports, easing pressure as Washington negotiates with its former top markets to have a ban lifted.
calendar icon 14 March 2006
clock icon 4 minute read

Japanese officials said the latest discovery proved the U.S. was effectively testing for the brain-wasting disease, while Taiwan authorities believed the risk of infection was minimal as the cow's old age would have precluded its meat from being exported.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday a 10-year-old beef cow from a herd in Alabama had tested positive for mad cow disease, confirming the third case of the disease in 27 months.

Previously, the USDA had failed to discover an infected animal that was later confirmed by a British laboratory as having the disease, known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

"It will not affect our procedures for the resumption of beef imports," Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters on Tuesday.

Instead, Japan is more concerned about U.S. compliance with a bilateral agreement on beef trade, as Tokyo reinstated a ban on U.S. beef on Jan. 20 following the discovery of banned cattle parts in a veal shipment from New York, officials said.

The suspension came just a month after Japan lifted a two-year ban imposed in December 2003 due to mad cow fears. At the time of the ban, Japan was the largest export market for U.S. beef, with annual exports worth about $1.4 billion.

The Japanese government has said it cannot allow U.S. beef imports to resume until Washington finds the cause of the violation and takes steps to prevent a recurrence.


South Korea said it was likely to stick to a plan to resume U.S. beef imports as long as the infected U.S. cow was born before a ban on feeding of meat and bone meal ruminants to guard against BSE. Taiwan health officials said the new case did not present a danger to consumers.

"There would be no change in South Korea's plan to resume U.S. beef imports, to which Seoul and Washington agreed in January," South Korea's agriculture ministry said in a statement.

The Alabama cow appeared to have been born before the 1997 ban took effect.

South Korea, once the third-largest export market for U.S. beef, said in January it would resume importing U.S. beef in late March. Last week, it pushed back that date to April.

A senior health official in Taiwan, which only reopened its market to U.S. beef in January, said the age of the infected cow well exceeded the 30-month limit placed on imports, while other conditions such as the removal of bones meant the beef posed no risk.

"With these kind of import restrictions and looking at this case, there is no danger, so we won't employ any immediate bans," Hsiao Tung-ming, director of food safety at the Department of Health, said by phone.


But there were no celebrations in Australia over the lastest BSE discovery in the U.S., despite the country having already reaped major payoffs from Japan's exclusion of U.S. beef from December 2003.

"We'd like to see animal diseases eradicated and off the consumer radar altogether. It's not good for consumption of beef around the world," said Peter Weeks, chief market analyst of the Meat & Livestock Australia

Australia is selling just about all the beef it can to Japan and other North Asian countries, and it would not have more stock available to ship even if extra demand did arise.

"We're hitting up against supply constraints certainly this year. We're supplying all we can supply," Weeks said.

If Japan kept U.S. beef out for all of 2006, Australia might possibly export more to Japan this year than last year, but exports were at the limit at present.

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