WASHINGTON- In the first part of the decade, Japan was the U.S.’s largest importer of beef. The exports were valued in the billions of dollars and benefited cattle producers across the county.
But in December 2003, Japan closed its doors to U.S. beef after the discovery of one Canadian-born cow infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, in the state of Washington.
Since the discovery of BSE, U.S. beef exports to Japan have not returned to pre-2003 levels and beef producers are feeling the effects. According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Japan’s ban on U.S. beef results in approximately $1 billion in lost exports annually for American producers.
In an effort to open talks between the Obama administration and the Japanese government, Rep. Jerry Moran, in cooperation with Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., introduced a resolution to support increased market access for exports of U.S. beef and beef products to Japan Thursday.
“It is time for Japan to fully open its markets to U.S. beef. For several years now, Japan has used non-scientific standards to restrict access to high quality U.S. beef products,” said Moran. “Japan asks for fair treatment of their products and we’re asking for the same fair treatment - which means an adherence to internationally recognized, science-based trade standards.”
House Resolution 1196 states that Japan should immediately expand market access for U.S. beef products, and urges the Obama Administration to insist on increased market access from Japan. U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Since the discovering of BSE in 2003, the U.S. government has added additional safeguards on top of its existing multi-layered system of interlocking safeguards to ensure the safety of U.S. beef. But Japan has yet to fully open its doors to the U.S. beef industry. The bans have impacted exports and beef prices within the U.S. From 2004 to 2009, U.S. beef exports to Japan averaged approximately $196 million, less than fifteen percent of the 2003 level.
The internationally recognized authority, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), classified the United States as a “controlled risk” country for BSE in 2007, which means that U.S. beef is safe for export and consumption.
In 2006, Japan agreed to limit access of U.S. beef to beef younger than 21 months of age – a restriction that continues to the present day. The U.S. beef industry wants to export beef up to 30 months of age.
“Japan’s unscientific trade restriction is not consistent with fair-trade practices nor with U.S. treatment of Japanese imports, and it continues to cost the U.S. beef industry—limiting us to about 25 percent of our potential market there, or $1 billion in lost beef exports each year. It’s time for the U.S. to take action and insist that Japan end this ban immediately,” said Steve Fogelsong, President of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.
In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Barack Obama pledged to double exports.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will visit Japan April 5-9 and is expected to ask the Japanese government to lift its restrictions on imported American beef products.
“My mission on this trip will be to continue to push hard to open markets and to bolster an open, rule-based international trading system that will benefit both consumers and our farmers and ranchers, who supply agricultural products around the world,’’ Vilsack said in a statement.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano earlier this month expressed caution toward changing his country’s policy on beef exports and stressed the importance of ensuring food safety.