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Japan’s Action Ends Era of BSE Reaction


It was Christmas Eve of 2003 that the first case of BSE was discovered in the US.  This single cow in Washington State caused Japan to slam the door on US beef imports.  For the past 10 years, the US has been working to pry that market back open again. This week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that Japan had lifted its last restriction to US beef, now accepting beef from cattle up to 30 months of age, “We expect this deal of generate an additional half billion dollars for the US economy.” Vilsack who, like the two  Ag Secretaries before him, found it very difficult to convince Japan that BSE was not a threat in the US. National Cattleman’s Beef Association  President J. D. Alexander says the cattle industry is thrilled to have the last remnant of the BSE scare put to rest, “It is a great opportunity for us to supply a product that is in great demand in Japan.” He added, with the drought and poor profit margins, this is about the only good news the cattle industry has had lately.


USDA economist Shayle Shagam said rebuilding the billion dollar US beef market in Japan has been a long slow process, “In 2003, US beef sales to Japan was about a $1.4 billion market.” He added that, over the past 10 years, the US has slowly regained some market share and that, near the end of 2012, US beef exports to Japan totaled $970 million.  US Meat Export Federation economist Erin Borrer says, with the lifting of the last restriction, US beef exports to Japan will finally reclaim its billion dollar value, “We are looking at a 45% increase in volume to 225,000 metric tons and value to $1.5 billion.”


The restriction will be lifted as of Feb 1 at a time when US cattle numbers are at record low levels. Currently US beef has about a 25% share of Japan’s beef market with Australia accounting for 60%.  MEF officials says US beef is preferred in Japan because of its corn fed quality.  The age restrictions prevented the US from providing larger quantities of beef to Japan but, with the age limit lifted, US  cattlemen hope to move the US market share to 50% and eventually overtake Australian grass fed beef.


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