Barriers go up against US beef
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Barriers go up against US beef"
The news of a case of BSE, better known as mad cow disease, found in the US was a sad Christmas present on the day of the Eve, not only to the producers but also to the consumers as well.
The list of countries seems to keep getting longer. The number of countries effectively banned import of US beef at this writing is reported to be eleven, which includes Japan, Mexico, and South Korea.
Japan, in fact, was the quickest in responding to the report. It immediately notified the public health centers across the country, and quarantines in ports and airports were ready in an instant to prevent American beef from coming in. When Japanese tourists returned home carrying packs of beef-jerky as gifts to their friends and relatives, they were surprised, and often upset, to learn that they had to voluntarily give them up to quarantine officers, for them to be incinerated.
Japan is the largest market for US beef in terms of value, accounting for 32% of the total beef export from the US, and Mexico, which is number one in terms of volume, follows, each contributing to US export of around US$850 million annually. South Korea imports about US$600 million, and just these three countries account for three-quarters of total US beef export.
From Japan's point of view, where close to 1 million ton of beef is consumed a year, 40% is domestically supplied, 30% from Australia, and 25% from the US. This means Japan has closed 40% of the beef import channel, and shut 25% of total supply for the people to consume.
Japan already prohibits import of beef from countries and areas where BSE have been found. This includes the whole EU and a number of other European countries, and notably Canada, where one case of BSE was found in May this year, which prompted other countries to ban Canadian beef, including the United States. This time, it would leave Australia as practically the only country where Japan could rely on to supply beef, which is already built-in to Japan's dinner tables that could be supplied only in limited quantities domestically.
Responses of restaurants and supermarkets have been split so far, some simply taking US beef out of their menus and shelve, while others, claiming that the existing inventory is safe, still serve them. But the real, and perhaps serious, effect should become evident as time goes by, with an inevitable hike in beef prices which could induce changes in supply structure of alternative source of nourishment, beginning with other meats. It could even cause a ripple, to say the least, in the whole economy, the extent of which no one really knows yet.