Thursday’s decision by the government to resume beef imports from the United States is drawing a mixed response from consumers.
While doubts about the safety of U.S. beef remain, and consumer groups oppose the resumption of imports, other beef eaters are unconcerned about the safety issue and look forward to having American beef back on their tables.
Toshiko Kanda of the National Liaison Committee of Consumer Organizations, which brings together some 43 consumer groups, criticized the government for what it called a hasty decision.
“Uncertainty over U.S. beef still lingers among the public. The government has a responsibility to assure the public about the safety” of U.S. beef, Kanda said.
The government should have been more thorough in its inspections of U.S. meatpacking facilities to prevent banned beef parts from entering Japan, as happened in January, she added.
Following a monthlong inspection, 33 out of 35 meatpacking plants got the OK on Thursday to begin beef shipments to Japan.
Of the other two, one will be monitored for safety compliance for about two months and the other, which completed a merger in June, will be added to the list after drawing up safety procedures for beef shipments.
Of the 33 plants that passed inspection, 13 had errors in their paperwork.
“It is surprising to see that such basic mistakes were found at those facilities even though they knew in advance about the inspection,” she said, arguing that it shows carelessness may lead to more violations.
Tokyo first closed the market to U.S. beef in December 2003 after a cow tested positive for mad cow disease in the U.S. The ban was lifted last December on condition that beef exported to Japan be limited to cows younger than 21 months, and that parts at higher risk of infection, including spinal cords, be removed. But imports were again banned just a month later when backbones were found in shipment of veal at Narita airport.
Yoko Sekiguchi, 50, said while shopping at a supermarket in Minato Ward, Tokyo, that she will not buy U.S. beef because she is worried about its safety.
“I will not buy beef products labeled as imported from the U.S. I want the government to re-examine (its decision),” she said. “I think I will only go to restaurants that provide information on the country of origin of their beef.”
A 58-year-old man coming out of a Yoshinoya “gyudon” (beef bowl) restaurant in Minato Ward said he will not order gyudon even if the chain puts it back on the menu, saying he eats other dishes.
Yoshinoya D&C Co. said it will resume sales of gyudon made with U.S. beef as early as September. The chain no doubt hopes most of its customers are like the 35-year-old man eating at the Minato Ward outlet who said he has no safety worries and will eat gyudon once it’s back on the menu.
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