Japanese restaurants lobby for more U.S. beef

JAPAN - Japanese restaurants are set to urge the government to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports, saying the stringent rules are causing a serious supply crunch, officials said Tuesday.
calendar icon 20 December 2006
clock icon 2 minute read

Though Tokyo eased a 2 1/2-year blanket ban on U.S. beef in July, lingering trade restrictions over mad cow fears has meant only a trickle of U.S. beef has made it back into the country. The Japan Food Service Association and three other restaurant groups say supply of the U.S. meat has lagged critically behind demand and driven prices higher.

They plan to submit a petition to the country's health and farm ministries as early as Friday demanding Japan ease import restrictions, according to JFSA official Kunio Chiba. "Wherever U.S. beef is served, it has been very popular. But restaurants are struggling to secure a constant supply," Chiba said Tuesday. "Tender U.S. beef has long been loved by Japanese.

The current import restrictions are hurting beef restaurants all over Japan," Chiba said. Less than 30% of restaurants that used U.S. beef in 2003 before the ban now serve the meat, according to a recent JFSA poll of 130 steak, beef rice bowl and grilled beef restaurant chains across the country. Japan currently allows only boneless meat from cows aged 20 months or younger because infection from mad cow disease, the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is thought to spread with age.

Tokyo has also limited imports to beef that has been through stringent checks at selected U.S. meat processing plants. U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Japan to raise the age restriction to 30 months, in line with international standards set by the World Organization for Animal Health.

Japan was once the United States' most lucrative overseas market for beef, buying 200,000 tons worth $1.4 billion in 2003, before the first case of mad cow was found in the U.S. herd. In 2006, Tokyo has imported only 3,241 tons, worth Y2.36 billion ($20.0 million), as of the end of October, according to Finance Ministry statistics.

Eating meat contaminated with BSE is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare but deadly nerve disease.

Source: Chron.com

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