Japan Near Ready to Loosen Beef Import Limits: Report
November 15, 2011
The Japanese government plans to slightly relax its restrictions on the age of Canadian and U.S. cattle from which it will accept beef, Kyodo News reports.
The Tokyo-based news agency on Monday quoted officials with the country's health ministry as saying revised rules will be drafted by the end of this month, allowing beef from Canadian and U.S. cattle 30 months of age or younger (UTMs), up from the current limit of 20 months.
The new rules would pave the way for the eased restrictions to take effect sometime in the first half of 2012, Kyodo reported.
The raised ceiling is "believed to reflect Tokyo's intention to adhere more strictly to scientific grounds and to seek to ease restrictions imposed by many countries on Japanese farm products over fears of radioactive contamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis" in March, Kyodo said.
The country's health ministry was reported to be "positive" about the change, believing Japan's current beef inspection system and the under-20-month limit to be too strict, although the nation's agriculture ministry was said to be opposed to the idea.
Japan originally shut its ports to Canadian beef in 2003 following the discovery that May of Canada's first domestic case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in an Alberta cow, and clamped down on U.S. beef later that year.
Japan agreed in late 2005 to reopen to Canadian beef and beef products, but limited its imports to beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger.
At a recent meeting of the health ministry's panel on food safety, Kyodo reported, officials pointed out that 2,215 head of cattle had been found with BSE worldwide in 2001, but that number dropped to 45 by 2010 and only 12 BSE-positive animals have been found worldwide so far this year.
Domestically, out of 12 million cattle inspected for BSE since 2001, Japan confirmed 36 cases of the disease and has not seen a new case since 2009, Kyodo said.
Canada's own BSE net has caught 18 BSE-positive Canadian cattle out of over 313,000 animals tested since 2003; the most recent was a 77-month-old dairy cow found in Alberta in February.
Kyodo also reported Monday that Japan's health ministry plans to ease its domestic screening, which now requires BSE testing for all Japanese slaughter cattle older than 21 months.
- Source: Ag Canada
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