Japan may lift limits on age for imports of U.S. beef
Japan’s Food Safety Commission (FSC) will consider eliminating current restrictions requiring imported U.S. beef come from cattle aged 30 months or younger.
An FSC research panel is confident that beef sourced from the U.S. does not present a threat of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). The FSC is seeking public comments for the next month before the panel determines a change in the current restrictions.
“I want the Japanese government to actively check whether the United States is conducting risk management properly to ensure safety,” Noboru Manabe, head of the research panel and professor at Osaka International University, in an interview with The Japan Times.
Current BSE-linked age restrictions have been in place since Feb. 2013. Previously, Japan had banned U.S. beef and beef products entirely following the detection of a BSE-positive animal found in the U.S. in Dec. 2003. In July 2006, Japan partially reopened its market but limited U.S. beef imports only from cattle younger than 20 months of age.
“Japan’s change in U.S. beef eligibility from cattle under 20 months of age to cattle under 30 months of age resulted in U.S. beef exports to Japan to jump from $1 billion in 2012 to nearly $1.4 billion in 2013,” said Joe Schuele, U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) director of communications. “Since then, we have made incremental gains in the past couple of years as we have gained additional access for processed beef products to Japan.”
Now, facing stronger pressures from President Donald Trump’s administration, Japan’s FSC may eliminate the current age restrictions altogether.
“I think every cattle producer knows this age requirement Japan has enforced is really just a trade barrier and has nothing to do with the safety of our product,” said Joe Maxwell, Organization of Competitive Markets (OCM) executive director and Missouri cattle rancher. “The removal of this trade barrier will really benefit our market and provide us more opportunities to export our beef. We see this as an extreme positive.”
Japan is the number-one importer of U.S. beef, followed closely by South Korea. In 2017, Japan imported more than $1.5 billion of U.S. beef. This year, Japan is on track to break that record, having already imported $1.3 billion as of Sept. 2018.
While no definite timeline is in place for this change to take effect, Schuele says this the public comment period will largely determine the outcome of FSC’s decision.
“For the most part, BSE is not a high level of concern in our Asian markets these days,” he said. “It’s still an issue to keep an eye on, of course, but as years have past and media attention to BSE has died down, I don’t expect to see much consumer pushback in Japan about this change.”
Japan doesn’t currently impose any additional restrictions on U.S. beef to determine country-of-origin or to distinguish if an animal was born in Canada or Mexico.
The USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) lists Japan’s export requirements, which detail that, “Imported beef is not eligible for export to Japan. Products derived from imported animals slaughtered in the U.S. may be eligible if sourced from either the third free countries as recognized by Japan or the BSE-affected countries as recognized by Japan. Imported meat may be eligible if sourced from only the third free countries as recognized by Japan. These animals must have been born in and never spent time in any countries other than eligible countries. They may either be imported into the U.S. direct to slaughter or may be further raised in the U.S. prior to slaughter.”
“Other than the 30-month cattle age limit, there are few remaining product restrictions on U.S. beef to Japan,” said Schuele. “Per the FSIS Export Library, cattle must also be ‘in compliance with FSIS regulations to ensure the removal of the distal ileum of the small intestine and the tonsils.’”
With BSE concerns easing in the Asian marketplace, Schuele doesn’t anticipate this change making a huge impact on the current booming demand for U.S. beef in Japan. Yet, other challenges remain.
“We still have the 38.5 percent tariff that Japan charges the U.S.,” said Schuele. “Despite that, the market is still doing very well. We should exceed $2 billion in exports to Japan in 2018, so the large tariff remains the biggest obstacle.”
Maxwell is encouraged by Japan’s consideration in removing this trade barrier; however, he says he hopes the boost in sales will benefit not only the beef price, but the cattle price, too.
“With 82 percent of the beef industry controlled by four major companies, sometimes you can open up a new market, and the cattle producer still doesn’t see any benefit,” said Maxwell. “We are hopeful that this new market will benefit the cattle price and not just the beef price to provide independent producers a stronger cattle market a time when we desperately need it.”
With Japanese demand for U.S. beef nearly surpassing domestic demand, this potential removal of the BSE-linked age restrictions could prove to be incredibly beneficial to this important trade partner.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News