April 25 (Bloomberg) -- Japan won’t suspend U.S. beef imports even after the discovery of mad-cow disease in California, said an agriculture ministry official.
“We are importing beef from the U.S. under rules agreed between the two nations, based on the assumption that mad-cow disease has not yet been eradicated,” Minoru Yamamoto, director at the ministry’s international animal health affairs office, said today by phone. “We don’t plan to halt imports because of the discovery in the U.S.”
The first U.S. case of the brain-wasting disease in six years was found in a dairy cow before it entered the food chain and posed any threat to consumers, John Clifford, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian, told reporters yesterday in Washington. The cow was identified as part of routine testing for the disease, Clifford said.
Japan restricts U.S. beef imports to cattle 20 months old or younger as older animals are at higher risk of having the disease. The regulation was put in place before Japan resumed purchases in 2005 of American beef, which had been banned after of the first discovery of the disease in the U.S. in 2003.
Futures for June delivery climbed 0.3 percent to $1.11875 a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at 12:51 p.m. in Tokyo after falling yesterday to the lowest level since July 1.
Before yesterday’s discovery, the health ministry was planning to relax the import restriction after getting approval from the nation’s Food Safety Commission, as risks for mad-cow disease have receded internationally, Hideshi Michino, director at the ministry’s import food safety office, said on April 11.
The ministry has proposed to raise the age limit to 30 months, widening opportunities for U.S. beef shippers to boost sales to Japan, the largest export market before the 2003 ban. A commission panel on the disease held its fourth meeting yesterday to discuss the proposed change.
“The latest mad-cow case in the U.S. may delay Japan’s decision-making process, as experts at the Food Safety Commission will probably take time to examine it,” said Susumu Harada, senior director at the Tokyo office of U.S. Meat Export Federation, a sales-promotion organization.
The latest case was “atypical,” the USDA’s Clifford said, meaning the form of the disease was very rare and not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed. Such cases can occur spontaneously in older animals, said Guy Loneragan, an epidemiologist and professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
U.S. beef is “very safe” and “firewalls” put in place ensure that there are no health concerns, Joel Haggard, Asia-Pacific vice president of the U.S Meat Export Federation, said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
U.S. beef sales to Japan may gain 24 percent to 150,000 metric tons in 2012, the seventh straight year of expansion, as restrictions on shipments ease and a strong yen will curb import costs, Philip Seng, the federation president, said on April 11. The forecast is based on assumption that the easing of restrictions will occur, he said, without giving a timeframe.
U.S. beef exports, including variety meat, may reach 1.3 million to 1.35 million tons (2.9 billion to 3 billion pounds) this year, up from an estimated 1.28 million tons in 2011, the federation has projected. Japan was the third-largest export market for U.S. beef after Mexico and Canada last year.
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