According to government sources, this report says Japan may soon raise the age of cattle for beef to 30 months or younger from the current 20-months or younger for the U.S. and Canada, with Japan Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko (surname first) likely to make the announcement in November at the Japan - U.S. summit meetings with President Barack Obama.
It is thought that simply by raising the restriction from 20 months and younger up to 30 months or younger, it could be worth about $1-billion in beef imports a year.
Just don't expect thing to moo-ooove quickly, as there are still a lot of details to figure out.
Japan and the U.S. been at odds over Japan’s beef import restrictions for the past eight years when it banned U.S. beef imports in 2003 after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease) was discovered in cattle in the U.S. and Canada.
In December 2005, the government partially resumed imports but only of boneless beef from cattle aged 20 months or younger following a recommendation by the Food Safety Commission.
(Ed. Note: I've been eating a lot of beef, and I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine. Moooooooooo!)
Imports from the U.S. were halted again in January 2006 after bone material was found in a shipment of beef.
Under the restrictions, meat containing spinal chords, vertebrae, brains and bone marrow is banned. The government resumed U.S. beef imports in July in the same year, based on results of inspections conducted by safety regulators in the U.S.
Japan has allowed imports from cattle 20 months or younger since 2006, but the U.S. wants full access for beef from cattle of all ages.
Cattle age restrictions for beef from Canada will also be eased from the current 20 months or younger to 30 months or younger. Although the government has not permitted beef exports from France and the Netherlands, both countries have urged Japan to resume imports.
Regarding France and the Netherlands, beef cattle of any age has been banned as Europe had more outbreaks of BSE than North America. Easing the restrictions on these two countries may mean that Japan will allow imports of cattle aged 20 months or younger.
(Ed. Note: By that same mad cow reasoning of mine, that means that both France and the Netherlands may get full access beef to Japan of 30 months after an additional eight years).
Imports stood at about 99,000 tons in fiscal 2010 due to the restrictions down from 240,000 tons in fiscal 2002.
To coincide with the possible relaxation of import restrictions, the government also plans to relax inspections on domestic beef. The current target age for BSE inspection on domestic cattle is 21 months or older.
However, if the age limit of U.S. beef is relaxed to 30 months or younger, it is likely that inspections of domestic beef will also be relaxed to 31 months or older.
At present, prefectural governments inspect cattle for consumption aged 20 months or younger. If the age limit restriction is eased, it is likely that the prefectural governments will be faced with an increased workload.
Files by Andrew Joseph