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Re-Closure Makes Recovering Japan Market Tougher

The good news is Japan will eventually reopen its market to U.S. beef imports; the bad news is the January halt in U.S. beef shipments has apparently rocked what was already shaky Japanese consumer confidence in U.S. product.

Sadly the reopening of the market will be a partial victory at best. The U.S. would have faced reduced export levels anyway due to the 20-month rule, but demand is likely to be softer this second time around.

When you talk to those involved in shipping product to Japan, the biggest concern isn't the age restriction, regaining consumer confidence, or winning back market share grabbed by other countries in our absence. The concern is a zero-tolerance system seemingly designed to set the U.S. up for failure.

A zero tolerance on bone fragments, even those that aren't part of specified risk materials (non-vertebral), along with a myriad of hoops and bureaucratic hurdles that have been put in place, makes it nearly impossible for U.S. exporters to comply. The result is that the incentive for the U.S. to export to Japan has been greatly reduced.

One packer told me the U.S. will ship beef to Japan once the market opens because it needs to and largely has no choice. But what was once a bonanza for U.S. cattle producers has been reduced to a negligible benefit. -- Troy Marshall