Japanese agriculture minister Yoshiyuki Kamei told reporters that the new measures, announced last week, fall short of what is needed to reassure Japan over the safety of US meat. Reuters reports the minister as saying that the safeguards installed are simply not up to a satisfactory level, and that the United States should conduct the same type of tests on meat as Japan does.
Japan was one of the first countries to suspend US beef imports immediately after the 23 December announcement of the first US case of BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. A rare human form of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), has been linked to around 130 human deaths, mostly in Britain, where BSE devastated the cattle industry in the 1990s.
Trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa is visiting the States this week for talks with various US officials. It is almost certain that beef will be on the agenda, if not on the menu. US beef exports to Japan amounted to some 234,000 tonnes worth $1.12 billion in 2002.
The country, which is the world's biggest importer of US beef, said yesterday that it was preparing to send a team to rival beef exporter Australia to look for alternative supplies. Replacing American imports would certainly be a boon for the Australian beef industry, but there are fears that demand might outstrip supply, especially if other Asian nations start banning US beef imports. Australia exported 277,300 tonnes of beef to Japan worth US $1.1 billion in the year through June 2003, according to Meat and Livestock Australia figures.
Stateside, damage limitation is now in full swing. The USDA has been keen to stress that BSE is not spread from cow to cow, and that there is a low risk of transmission of BSE from heifer to calf. In addition, the animals set to be culled at the farm in Washington State are too young to develop BSE, but the USDA is prepared to depopulate the herd out of an abundance of caution.
In addition, the USDA is expecting shortly the results on the DNA testing of the affected animal, which will help determine that animal's herd of origin.