Japan in no rush to buy US beef
Mon Feb 20, 1:00 PM ET
Japan said it was in no rush to resume buying US beef after the United States outlined new precautionary measures it would take to ensure against madcow disease.
“We must not be hasty in dealing with this and we should consider how to handle this issue after carefully analyzing the report,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.
Asked about US demands that its close political ally lift its beef ban, Koizumi said: “It is very difficult. There is a gap between Japan and the United States over the understanding of food safety.”
He was speaking after his farm minister told him that Japan still had “various questions” about US beef following a 475-page US probe into a shipment that led Japan to impose a new ban on imports.
“The content of the report was insufficient for Japan,” Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters after meeting with Koizumi.
“There are many questions and things that we want to confirm. It will take several days to examine the details as we make inquiries,” he said.
Nakagawa said Koizumi responded by saying: “Please work on it thoroughly.”
In the report issued Friday, the United States said that the shipment which broke Japanese safety guidelines was sent due to confusion among US meat inspectors on what could be exported to Japan.
Japan had agreed to examine the report to determine if the same mistake could be repeated.
Japan, which had been the largest overseas market for US beef, initially suspended imports from the United States in 2003 after a case of madcow disease was discovered in a herd in Washington state.
Under intense US pressure, Japan resumed imports in December only to impose a new ban a month later after the objectionable shipment, which violated Japanese rules that risky body parts such as spinal matter be removed.
The United States has apologized for the impounded shipment but called it an isolated case, saying US beef is safe for human consumption.
“This report recommends additional steps that will be taken to tighten and strengthen our enforcement mechanisms,” US ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said as he presented the report Friday.
“We hope that this investigation will assure all our Japanese customers that we take their concerns seriously and intend to honor the agreement we made to open their market to American beef,” he said.
But surveys have shown that most Japanese consumers are hesitant about US beef, perceiving that it is more risky than domestic meat.
Japan is the only Asian nation to have detected madcow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in its own herd. Unlike the United States, Japan tests all cattle to be slaughtered for consumption.
US farms-state senators had demanded trade sanctions against Japan unless it opened up by the end of 2005. The US industry sold Japan 1.7 billion dollars worth of beef in 2002.