Japan Not Ready To Ease Beef Ban

The future of U.S. beef exports to former top customer Japan remained unclear as efforts to reopen the Japanese market appeared to have run into more snags.

Japan's Agriculture Ministry said Friday it needs more information on how to tell the age of American cattle, as a U.S. explanation was insufficient. Also, Japan again put off a decision on whether to end its policy of testing all cattle for mad cow disease.

According to Reuters News Service, U.S. officials told a Japanese delegation during visits to beef processing plants in Colorado on Tuesday that they could estimate age by checking the maturity of meat and bones.

Japanese officials were not satisfied. “We had the impression that their explanation was insufficient," said Hirofumi Kugita, the head of the ministry's international animal health affairs office.

Kugita, who returned to Tokyo late on Thursday from a two-day visit to Colorado, told Reuters the maturity of meat and bones could vary between cattle, and there was no information from the U.S. side on how accurate such age estimates were.

Japan, which suspended U.S. beef imports last December after the U.S. reported its first mad cow disease case, is considering resuming imports of beef from U.S. cattle aged 20 months or younger without requiring them to go through tests to detect the disease.

However, Japanese officials this week again put off a decision on whether to end domestic mad cow testing on cattle aged 20 months or younger.

Japanese newspapers reported earlier this week that a decision was to be made by Friday. However, on Thursday Japanese officials said the decision had been put off until next week due to a scheduling conflict.

On Friday, however, things sounded more uncertain. Japan’s agriculture minister said that the agriculture and health ministries would discuss the matter with ruling party politicians early next week. However, Yoshinobu Shimamura told Reuters he could not say when a decision would be made.

Japanese media reported on Thursday that the government planned to keep providing subsidies to local governments to help them pay for blanket mad-cow disease testing. Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at www.brockreport.com.