November 1, 2011
Japan to ease US, Canadian beef import restrictions
Japan will ease US and Canadian beef import restrictions, permitting cattle imports of aged 30 months or younger instead of the present limit of 20 months or younger, the media reported Monday (Oct 31).
The health ministry's panel on food safety, which approved a policy to review current regulations, will work out revised rules by the end of November, paving the way for a relaxation of restrictions in the first half of 2012, the officials said.
The decision came after strong requests from the US and Canada to ease the ban on beef imports. It is believed to reflect Tokyo's intention to adhere more strictly to scientific grounds and seek to ease restrictions imposed by many countries on Japanese farm products over fears of radioactive contamination in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry was positive about changing the policy as it believed Japan's current beef inspection system and import restrictions are too strict when the number of cows found to be infected with the brain-wasting disease has decreased, but the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry remained opposed to the idea.
At the panel meeting, the health ministry pointed out that 2,215 cows were found to have been infected globally with the disease formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2001, but the number sharply decreased to 45 in 2010. This year, 12 cows had been found infected globally as of late September.
In Japan, among over 12 million cows that underwent BSE inspections since fiscal 2001, the disease was confirmed in a total of 36 cases through fiscal 2008, but no new cases have been reported since fiscal 2009.
The health ministry is also planning to ease screening requirements for domestic beef by raising the lower age limit on testing of slaughtered domestic cattle for BSE from the current 21 months or older. It will be the first review in six years since Japan eased blanket testing requirements in August 2005.
During the panel meeting, the health ministry said screening requirements in the EU apply to slaughtered cattle aged 72 months or older.
Japan banned imports of US and Canadian beef in 2003 following the confirmation of mad cow disease. While it lifted the ban in December 2005 and imposed conditions that included the 20-month-or-younger age limit, the two countries have repeatedly pressed Tokyo to further ease the restrictions.