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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #256: October 14, 2004

Matsuya brings back 'gyudon' with Chinese beef

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Matsuya brings back 'gyudon' with Chinese beef"
The Japan Times

Related Article:
"Japan's may extend ban on U.S. beef "
CBS MarketWatch

Un-related Article:
"Japan confirms 14th mad cow case"


As reported in the article above, a major fast-food chain restaurant, Matsuya, has just revived gyudon (beef-bowl) on its menu after more than six months since it ran out of stock of US beef banned to import in December last year.

In the mean time, the related story above reports that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's subcommittee discussing the issue has resented the government's plan to propose to Japan's Food Safety Commission for resumption of, with certain conditions, import of US beef.

As with any other country in the world, Japan imposes certain procedures on importing animal products for safety reasons -- safe not only for people to consume but also to protect domestic animals from contagious diseases.

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which is in charge of controlling and maintaining such procedures and regulations, lists from which countries certain meat could be imported. In the case of "cloven-hooted animals," -- animals that have their feet divided into two parts, such as cows, sheep, and goats -- countries and regions are classified into several categories. There are a couple of dozen or so countries and regions without restrictions, but most of the rest of the world fall into the category from where import of meat product is generally prohibited. If anyone wants to import meat from those restricted areas, it must be heat-processed or otherwise under the standards set forth by the Agriculture Minister, and the processing must be done at the establishments directly designated by the Japanese Minister in the exporting country.

Because of all the easily foreseeable complexity of maneuvering through bureaucracy in both Japan and the exporting country, there have been very little import of meat from those "generally restricted" areas. There were potential exporters, such as China and Argentina, but Japanese importers relied most of its import from the US and Australia, until last December when a case of BSE was reported in the US. Since then, Australia has become practically the sole source of imported beef for Japan. Aside from political and strategic risks, this caused certain problems for restaurants serving popular gyudon's in terms of texture, quantity, and cost. As a result, gyudon was dropped form the menus of most fast-food style restaurants, where young workers and students had often flocked to obtain nourishment at reasonable prices.

Matsuya has apparently been working to overcome all the hassles of importing beef from China, and they succeeded! It has been told that Chinese beef is akin to US, but in order to cover all the extra cost, gyudon regular size is offered at 380 yen, 100 yen more then it used to six months ago.

It was in early September when Japan's Food Safety Commission announced that meat from untested cattle 20 months old or younger could be imported without endangering public health. Since then, Japan and the US governments have been seeking ways to resume beef trading. As reported in the related article above, however, it seems to take still some time before the ban would be lifted.

In fact, this is another case of vested interest in action. Those opposed to early liberalization at the LDP meeting were the lawmakers representing, among others, cattle farmers. They claim to protect the safety of food for Japanese people, where in fact they are working to protect the domestic beef producers. There is a large number of people who eagerly want to get access to US beef knowing well all the inherent "risks." The government's job is to explain to the people what BSE is and what measures have been taken, while monitoring the beef sold in stores for proper indication of its origin and how it reached the shelves so people could assess the risks themselves.

It is only fair to give those young workers and students, and the active elderly, who are willing to take the same level of risk as the Americans, the right to access reasonably priced gyudon.

One comment on the "Un-related" Article posted above in order to avoid any confusion. Though the incident should obviously be handled properly, it must be noted that the infected cow was 4-years, or 48 months old. At that age it would have been tested for BSE in any modern jurisdiction including the US. The current issue is whether it is necessary to test every cow slaughtered at less than 20 months old.

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