October 7, 2003
Japan Mad Cow Case - Possible Influence on US-Canada Trade


The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday it was investigating on a new case of mad cow disease in a young animal in Japan, which could impact a USDA plan to reopen U.S. borders to shipments of live Canadian cattle that are under 30 months of age.


Japanese officials earlier confirmed the case of mad cow disease, the 8th since the illness was discovered in September 2001. It was the first confirmed case in Japan in a cow less than 2 years old.


Finding mad cow disease in a 23-month-old Japanese cow adds one more twist to the ongoing trade drama between Japan, the United States and Canada.


Japan, the largest buyer of U.S. beef, has required all American beef shipments be certified Canadian-free after Canada reported its first case of mad cow disease in May. The United States has never reported a case of mad cow disease.


"We're still trying to get the details of exactly what the situation is in Japan," said USDA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison. "To my knowledge, there have been no changes as far as the export of beef to Japan under the verification program."


Cattle futures traded in Chicago moved sharply higher earlier in the day, partly due to the worry that the new Japanese case could alter the USDA's thinking on the risks posed by Canadian cattle younger than 30 months.


The 30-month age limit was established after studies showed mad cow disease does not develop in animals that young.


The United States has begun allowing some "low-risk" beef products derived from young cattle, but continues to ban live imports.


"We are still working on a proposed rule for live cattle, so we are still working through all the risk analysis," Harrison said.


"As further details come through about this (Japan case), that possibly could go into our thinking. But at this point, it would be premature to say one way or another."


A USDA proposal to allow live Canadian cattle was expected within weeks. This would begin a rule-making process that requires several months for completion.