Japan To Drop BSE Testing Requirement To 20 Months

The Kyodo News reports today that Japan will change its domestic requirement for blanket testing of all cattle at harvest to exempt those cattle under 20 months of age. The announcement followed the acceptance by Japan's Cabinet Office's Food Safety Commission of a report on Thursday that concluded it was difficult to test for BSE in cattle under 20 months of age with current tests.

Another story in the Daily Yomiuri says Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry will draw up by the end of September a revised rule exempting domestic cattle under 20 months of age from mandatory testing. With Japan's long-held position that the U.S. must match Japan's domestic BSE policies, the development would seem to open the door to the U.S. export of beef products from cattle less than 20 months of age.

Japanese media resources report that Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi told a news conference it would first be necessary to hold a dialogue with consumers on the issue.

''Diplomatic negotiations will commence only after we secure the understanding of consumers,'' he says. ''A conclusion on this matter will not be able to be obtained so speedily.'

The Kyodo News reports sources as saying that even if Japan and the U.S. can agree to reopen Japanese markets to U.S. beef, it could be two months before imports actually restart. That suggests the resumption of U.S. beef exports to Japan might not be realized by yearend, the story concludes.