August 16, 2005

USDA proposes to ease mad cow ban on Japan beef

By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department on
Tuesday proposed allowing imports of Japan's Kobe beef, easing
a nearly four-year ban imposed because of mad cow disease

An activist farm group criticized the proposed rule, saying
the USDA was sacrificing U.S. food safety to appease the
Japanese government.

"We are having to compromise our health and safety
standards in order to restore that market," said Bill Bullard,
chief executive of ranchers group R-CALF USA.

The United States banned Japanese beef imports after the
Asian country discovered its first case of mad cow disease in
September 2001. Japan has found more than a dozen new cases
since then.

Japan took similar action after the United States found its
first case of the brain-wasting disease in a Washington state
dairy cow in December 2003.

As part of a trade pact reached last October, the USDA
agreed to conduct a risk assessment on Japan's Kobe beef with a
view to resume imports so both countries can reopen their
borders in tandem.

Jim Rogers, spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service, said the proposed rule was not connected to
U.S. efforts in reopening Japan's borders to U.S. beef.

"If any country asked us for the same thing, we would do
something similar," Rogers said.


R-CALF said Japanese beef was not safe for U.S. consumers
because it only recently implemented a ban prohibiting the use
of cattle remains to feed other cattle. The restriction is
viewed as the main safeguard in preventing the spread of bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Under the proposed rule, the USDA said it would allow
Japanese boneless cuts of beef from government certified plants
that do not use certain stunning techniques to kill cattle.

The rule will be published in Thursday's Federal Register.
Industry groups, consumer advocates and other interested
parties have until September 19 to submit comments, the USDA

Kobe beef, a delicacy that commands more than $100 per
pound in Japan, comes from Wagyu cattle massaged with sake and
fed a diet enriched with beer to stimulate their appetite.

The United States imported about $800,000 worth of Kobe
beef annually before the ban, the USDA said.