The livestock markets continued their late-summer rally this week, but there may still be cause for concern in cattle country. A perceived influx of cattle from Canada has failed to materialize. But the U.S. beef export market still has not recovered fully from the America's first case of mad cow disease late in 2003. Following the discovery, Japan immediately banned U.S. beef imports. Prior to the ban, Japan was the most lucrative export market for American cattle -- accounting for $1.5 billion in annual sales. Japan refuses to reopen the border despite repeated requests from U.S. officials to do so. Those efforts may have been dealt a serious blow this week when a Wisconsin plant recalled more than a ton of beef due to concerns over mad cow disease.
The Wisconsin-based Green Bay Dressed Beef company voluntarily recalled a shipment of 2000 pounds of beef this week after discovering meat from a cow over 30 months of age was unintentionally included. The action was taken after USDA was informed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that paperwork for the suspect cow was inaccurate. There were three Canadian animals with ages close to, or over, the mandated 30-month cut-off that were combined together in the processing run. Because the error was not discovered until after the meat had been distributed USDA requested that 1,856 pounds of beef from all three animals be recalled as a precaution.
The Agriculture Department made the request for the voluntary recall because back-bone from the older cow was left in some of the cuts of beef. Spinal column is among the specified risk materials, or SRMs, required to be removed in animals over 30 months of age.
And as beef begins to trickle in from Canada it may also begin to trickle in from Japan. USDA has proposed a rule that would allow boneless Japanese beef to be imported into the US if it met certain qualifications. The Agriculture Department is stressing this is an attempt to establish a scientific basis for accepting meat from other countries. Japanese meat inspectors have found 20 cases of mad cow in the Japanese herd over the past few years. This discovery has lead to testing of all cattle processed in Japan.
Even with what appears to be a gesture of good faith, officials with the Japanese Food Safety Committee stated this week that it was "anybody's guess" as to when Japan would resume U.S. beef imports.
The statement caused a furor among some Nebraska cattlemen who are calling for retaliatory action against the Japanese if the border does not open immediately. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has stated he wants to work out the differences without sanctions. Even so, Johanns says the time has come for Japan to reopen its border.