Easing of U.S. beef import curbs mulled


The Food Safety Commission will meet next Tuesday to discuss whether to approve the government’s proposal of easing restrictions on U.S. beef imports, said Makato Osone, a commission official.

A 13-member committee led by Nihon University professor Takeo Sakai will hold its seventh meeting since the government asked it to assess the health risks of relaxing restrictions imposed to safeguard against mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Osone said.

Japan restricts U.S. beef imports to meat from cattle 20 months old or younger because older animals are considered at higher risk of having the brain-wasting disease. The regulation was put in place before Japan resumed purchases in 2005 of American beef, which had been banned since the first discovery of the disease in the U.S. in 2003. Japan also requires U.S. shippers to remove materials such as spinal cords from all beef from cattle of any age before exports.

“The committee members will begin wrapping up their discussion on the issue, (which they’ve discussed for) the past seven months,” Osone said Wednesday. “If they don’t make a decision in the gathering next week, they may hold another meeting in August.”

The health ministry proposed in December to raise the age limit to 30 months, widening opportunities for U.S. beef shippers to boost sales to Japan, their largest export market before the ban.

U.S. beef sales to Japan, excluding variety meat, or offal, will likely expand to 150,000 tons this year from 120,605 tons in 2011, Philip Seng, president and CEO of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said in Tokyo on April 11.