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Japan reopens borders to U.S.-produced beef
Farm World Editor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Late Sunday evening, the Japanese government agreed to resume the importation of U.S. beef into their country.

This reopens a once-profitable market for U.S. beef producers. Japan closed its borders to U.S. beef following the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - also known as Mad Cow disease - in December 2003. Prior to that discovery, Japan imported $1.4 billion in U.S. beef and beef products in 2003.

“Resuming beef trade with Japan is great news for American producers and Japanese consumers, as well as an important step toward normalized trade based on scientifically sound, internationally recognized standards,” said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns.

He said other countries in Southeast Asia, which are still not accepting U.S. beef, should follow Japan’s lead.

“Now is the time for Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and others to open their markets to U.S. beef,” Johanns said. “I urge all countries to take a science-based approach and adopt OIE standards for allowing beef trade.”

The agreement with Japan allows the United States to export beef from cattle 20 months old and younger to the island nation. The USDA said more than 94 percent of U.S. beef products - with an estimated value of $1.7 billion - are now eligible to be exported to Japan.

This action pleased lawmakers, too.

“By all accounts, American beef is safe. Yet, the Japanese government has taken its sweet time over the last two years in reopening their borders to U.S. beef,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “This announcement is well overdue. USDA had indicated to America’s beef producers just before last year’s elections that exports to Japan would resume ‘within a matter of weeks.’ Over a year later, U.S. beef producers have yet to see that happen.”

On Monday, the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it would allow the importation of boneless Japanese beef products.

APHIS began prohibiting boneless Japanese beef products on Sept. 10, 2001 when APHIS added Japan to its list of regions where Mad Cow disease still existed.

As of July 2005, Japan has reported a total of 20 Mad Cow cases, including the initial case in September 2001.

This farm news was published in the December 14, 2005 issue of Farm World.