September 25, 2006


USMEF encourages cattle age verification



US Meat Export Federation CEO Philip Seng Friday (Sep 22) urged US cattle producers to be more vigilant in their efforts to create birth records, so the industry has as many cattle as possible that will qualify for export to Japan.


Seng made his comments in a teleconference from Osaka, Japan, where the USMEF is pushing its "We Care" campaign, which is an effort to reach Japanese beef buyers and consumers with the message that US beef is safe and wholesome. It's a way to put a face on the US industry and humanise it, distancing itself from the cold political process.


Currently, Japan will only accept beef and beef variety meats from cattle that are 20 months of age or younger. The trade agreement says the Japanese market will accept paper trails or a carcass maturity grading as ways of ageing a carcass, but buyers tell Seng they would prefer the paper trails.


Since carcass maturity verification is less specific than age records, some cattle that might be young enough for the Japanese market are disallowed, making for fewer products that can be shipped, Seng said.


Seng said he felt there was growing demand for US beef in Japan despite its high price and reports of consumer caution. If more US beef product were available to the market, prices might decline and make it more competitive with domestic and Australian beef, he said.


Meanwhile, there is a growing dissatisfaction within the scientific community with the lack of transparency in Japan over the way it conducts its tests for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, Seng said. A growing number of scientists worldwide are questioning the tests that showed 21- and 22-month-old cattle in Japan with BSE, he said.


There are questions about whether there is enough material to retest these cattle because of the lack of transparency, but the tests are being re-examined, he said. If a review shows those cattle may not have had BSE, it would put pressure on the Japanese government to reopen their market to older cattle, which would increase the amount of US beef and variety meats available to the market. 


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