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Japan Halts Imports of U.S. Beef ... Again

posted on January 20, 2006

Any rise in sugar imports won't help the U.S. agricultural trade balance, which already is teetering on the brink of a deficit. While the U.S. still is the world's largest exporter of agricultural goods and currently enjoys an agricultural trade surplus, imports are rising nearly twice as fast as exports. Nevertheless, the government's latest numbers on trade revealed farm exports grew by more than $1.7 billion dollars in 2005. Most of the increase in export value is directly attributable to livestock. Red meat values alone were up 33 percent over 2004. After Japan lifted a two-year ban on U.S. beef imports last month, analysts were cautiously optimistic about further beef exports. But the cattle industry was dealt a setback this week, when Japan announced it was halting U.S. beef imports ... again.

Japan Halts Imports of U.S. Beef ... Again

It's been a short-lived jubilation for the U.S. It was just over a month ago that Japan lifted its two-year ban on U.S. beef after mad cow disease was found in one cow in Washington state.

But on Friday, Japan once again halted imports, after its inspectors found veal with spinal cords attached in three of 41 boxes of frozen beef shipped from New York.

The USDA says the tissue Japan found which was in beef under 30 months old -- is not prohibited in the U.S. food supply, but is forbidden under the agreement with Japan, where officials there believe the material is at risk for mad cow disease.

Within hours of Japan's announcement, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns already had taken action, which included:

- Barring the plant in question from shipping more beef to Japan.

- Considering disciplinary action against the government inspector who cleared the shipment.

- Sending extra inspectors to every plant that exports meat to Japan to review procedures and ensure compliance with U.S. export agreements.

- ordering unannounced inspections at plants.

- And dispatching USDA investigators to Japan.

Agriculture department officials said Japan will hold U.S. beef at Japanese ports and decide later whether to impose a ban.

This setback for U.S. beef comes on the heels of recent "welcomed" announcements from other Asian countries reopening their markets to American beef. Just Thursday, Singapore officially ended a ban. In the past few weeks, Hong Kong and South Korea had also reopened their markets. All three of those countries are accepting only boneless cuts of beef from animals 30 months and younger.

The USDA says, since the discovery of a BSE-infected cow in the U.S., $4.8 (b) billion dollars worth of U.S. beef and beef product exports were banned. The Administration says markets accounting for $3.8 (b) have since been recovered

Tags: agriculture animals beef diseases food safety Japan livestock Mad Cow meat news trade