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Japan Agrees to Ease Mad Cow Restrictions on U.S. Beef

For only the second time in ten years, Japan on will further ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports starting February 1 to allow entry of beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age.

Previously, a 2006 restriction limited U.S. beef imports to products from cattle less than 20 months of age. Japan set that restriction when it allowed limited U.S. beef imports to resume after a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) was found in a U.S herd in 2003.

Japan’s easing of restrictions on U.S. beef imports is a sign that there is more product demand than fear in the Asian nation about BSE, popularly known as Mad Cow Disease.

Opening Japan’s market to more U.S. beef will result in “hundreds of million of dollars in exports of U.S. beef to Japan in coming years,” according to a statement by U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Kirk and Vilsack depicted the trade agreement as a “near normalization” of beef trade between the two nations. “This is great news for American ranchers and beef companies, who can now—as a result of this agreement—increase their exports of U.S. beefo to their largest market for beef in Asia,” Ambassador Kirk said.

Kirk called it a “significant and historic step” that will grow American exports and jobs.

Japan banned U.S. beef in 2003 after the first cow with BSE was discovered near Mabton, WA. It took three years before some imports were accepted from the younger animals.

Japan’s independent Food Safety Commission (FSC) conducted a risk assessment in 2011 that found raising the age limit in conjunction of U.S. controls on specific risk materials (SRM) could address safety concerns.

The expanded U.S. beef exports to Japan could reach the country by mid February and will likely put upward pressure on prices as American cattle numbers are at the lowest levels in 60 years. The drought affecting much of the U.S. has caused farmers and ranches to reduce their herds because dry lands aren’t producing enough to support the cattle.

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