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Home > Media Reiews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #192: February 12, 2004

Japan asks where the beef is

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Japan asks where the beef is"
(Justin McCurry) The Guardian,2763,1146184,00.html

Related Article:
"Japan Continues Ban on US Beef Imports"
(Amy Bickers) Voice of America


The article reports two disappointing events for Japan's people.

One is that the largest beef-bowl chain, Yoshinoya, finally ran out of stock of beef and ceased serving beef-bowls nation-wide on 11th. From close to 1,000 outlets, Yoshinoya served over 700,000 beef-bowls on average per day, at 280 yen, or US$2.70 for a regular size serving. Other fast-food chain restaurants have either already stopped, or are planning in the next week or so to stop serving beef-bowls.

The reason Yoshinoya hit the hardest is obviously because it is the largest shop providing the meal. Indeed, until recently the company had been widely praised as a typical fast-food business model specializing in a single line of products satisfying customers by fine tuning it in terms of taste, price, and quick service, while retaining a healthy margin. Sourcing 99% of the beef to the US was a strategy taken along these lines. In fact, when BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) was discovered in Japan in 2001 and people panicked, bringing down beef consumption by over 50%, Yoshinoya was barely affected by the chaos as their dish had been announced as using beef from the US, where a large market, both in production and consumption exists, and no BSE reported.

Such was the entrusted US beef, serving businessmen and ever hungry youngsters by matching their aspiration for source of energy and favorite staple food, rice, at a very reasonable price. It could be said that Yoshinoya's style was risky, relying on a single source of supply, but the company was well aware of the risk, and boldly took it, pursuing their product and profit to the maximum. As such, there seems to be no accusations heard toward the management of the company. People lament the disappearance of beef-bowls, and express sympathy to Yoshinoya and other beef-serving restaurants.

This leads to the other disenchanting part of the article where it reports that the US has announced termination of investigation of the outbreak of BSE in US. Japanese people are fond of beef, not only cooked as beef-bowls but also in various styles, including T-bone steaks. To the people who were looking for the issue to be resolved with the cooperation of the US, the announcement was a slap in the face. The report that the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met with the Agriculture Minister Kamei, and told him Japan should start re-importing US beef as Japan's attitude is "unscientific" did not at all help ease the sentiment of distrust toward the US authorities, by politicians, bureaucrats, and ordinary people. (see also "Related Article" above)

It could perhaps be "unscientific" to the eyes of "experts" to demand every cow slaughtered to be checked for BSE, but that has been the measure Japan has adopted after the horrifying experience of 2001, where people learned that there could be leakages, both intended and unintended, in inspecting for BSEs, and the only sure way is to check them all. While Japan's people long for inexpensive beef, and beef-bowls, it seems it will take a long time, if ever, for import of beef from the US to resume, if the seller has no intention to listen to the collective voice of the purchaser.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications