Producers cautious ahead of Japan beef talks
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Producers cautious ahead of Japan beef talks"
"USDA Veneman says beef talks with Japan not specific"
Chuckles of joy by beef producers in Australia could be seen readily between the lines behind seemingly a sober article warning the producers not to be overjoyed. Japan's ban on US beef imports after the discovery of BSE, or mad cow disease in the US has already blessed the Australians with windfall effects of soaring beef prices and new rushing inquiries by importers and retailers of Japan and elsewhere.
US beef comprises 40% of total beef imports, and imported beef supplies about 60% of Japan's total beef consumption, which means by banning US beef, Japan has halted a supply for 25% of beef being consumed. The effect is already felt among general consumers in Japan. Prices of beef, of domestic and imports from Australia and New Zealand mostly, have naturally risen, along with other meats, beginning with pork and chicken. Yoshinoya, a fast food chain specialized in serving inexpensive beef bowls at over 1,000 outlets across Japan with annual sales of over 100 billion yen, or about 1 billion dollars, have announced that they will use up their stock of beef by the end of January, and began seeking alternative menus to serve.
As such, the overall effect to Japanese people's daily lives, and to the whole economy, is inevitable, and so Japanese officials themselves are anxious to find a solution to reopen its doors to US beef. That is why the Farm Minister has hastily flown into Washington to discuss the matter, without knowing what should be discussed, as reported in the related article above.
In fact, Japanese people, too, really want the ban to be lifted, but with a condition -- that the beef is safe.
When a first mad-cow case was found in Japan in 2001, the authorities made a simple and terrible mistake. The government's first response was to scream and bark that the beef delivered to consumers were safe, without any evidence to support that claim. Having had bad track of hiding the facts on other occasions already, people angrily denounced the irresponsible attitude of the Health Ministry. In order to regain at least some of the faith, the government set out to establish a vast system to have each and every cow slaughtered to obtain mandatory inspection for BSE. Whether this measure was an overdose in terms of safety precautions may perhaps be a point of argument, but this is the system Japan has adopted, and people have become accustomed to it.
Accordingly, such cowboy-ish comments reportedly made by David Hegwood, special counsel to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that "testing all cattle in the U.S. for BSE would be scientifically groundless" and "despite the discovery of a single case of mad cow disease, beef from the U.S. presents no food safety problems" resonate in Japanese peoples' ears with what the health authorities had said back in 2001. What Mr Hegwood insist may be true, but it might worth warning that such an unwarranted comment before all the facts are laid, could only encourage building distrust among people, thus hampering legitimate efforts to seek a mutually productive solution.