Consumers expressed skepticism Friday about the ability of the U.S. to guarantee the safety of its beef, while businesses urged an immediate end to the import ban.
The two sides were speaking at a public forum in Tokyo sponsored by the government to hear the public’s views on the latest suspension of U.S. beef imports.
Many consumers called the government weak-kneed in its negotiations with Washington over the beef row and said the decision to lift the initial import ban last December was premature.
“We do not want to trade our lives for the interests of American and Japanese companies,” one woman told the public forum of about 310 people.
The woman said she suspected that meat-and-bone meal, which is believed to be a cause of the brain-wasting disease, may still be fed to cows in the United States.
“The United States says it will not violate bilaterally agreed conditions for beef exports to Japan any more, but we cannot take the promise at face value,” one member of a housewives’ group said.
One man warned the government against giving in to U.S. pressure to lift the country’s beef import ban, saying he feared Tokyo might open its beef market as a tradeoff to ensure Washington would not put pressure on Japan to increase its importation of rice in the current round of global trade liberalization talks.
Japan has been staunchly protecting its rice market in the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization negotiations.
However, businesses that rely on a steady supply of beef had a different view of the import ban.
A representative from a barbecue restaurant said reinstating the ban had “dealt a serious blow” to his company and he wanted to know whether the government would impose another beef embargo in the future if there was another case of banned meat arriving from the U.S., as was the case Jan. 19 when a shipment of veal was stopped at Narita airport with spinal material in it. Spinal cord is not allowed in imports to Japan under an agreement reached to end the initial two-year embargo.
Tokyo had lifted that ban in December, on condition that imports would be limited to meat from cattle aged up to 20 months with specified risk materials removed prior to shipping to guard against mad cow disease.
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