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Published November 07, 2011, 05:00 AM

Time is right to change import limits to fit global regulations

TOKYO — It is reasonable to relax the current strict restrictions on beef imports from the United States and other countries. The government immediately should decide to review the current policy.

TOKYO — It is reasonable to relax the current strict restrictions on beef imports from the United States and other countries. The government immediately should decide to review the current policy.

The government now is working to set the age of cattle from which beef is imported at 30 months or younger, the same standard adopted in South Korea and other countries. It is natural to adopt the same standards as other countries.

The Japanese health ministry’s panel on food safety is expected to work out the new rules by the end of November.

About eight years have passed since the first cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was detected in the United States.

Limit on imports

To prevent BSE-infected beef from entering Japan, the government limited imports of U.S.-produced beef to cattle aged 20 months or younger. However, South Korea, Mexico and other beef-importing countries, in principle, allow beef to be imported from cows aged up to 30 months.

The World Organization for Animal Health, which is charged with determining international safety standards for cattle, has designated the United States as a country from which beef can be exported irrespective of age. Compared with these standards, Japan’s beef import regulations are far too stringent.

There has been no instance of anyone in this country developing a BSE-caused disease after consuming domestic or imported beef.

Ready to lift restrictions?

In his talks with President Obama scheduled for mid-November, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to express Japan’s readiness to ease the beef import restrictions.

The United States, however, likely will remain steadfast in seeking a total abolition of Japan’s beef import restrictions. Japan will have to seek U.S. understanding of the nation’s need to restrict imports of beef from cows up to 30 months because of local consumer sentiments.

Since the use of meat and bone meal feed responsible for the spread of mad cow disease is prohibited, there practically is no danger of young cattle becoming infected.

Most local governments no doubt are aware that their cattle inspections are meaningless, but they probably hesitate to take the initiative in ending such inspections.

Inspections by local governments should be terminated immediately, and the number of cattle subject to safety inspections by the central government should be limited to ensure efficiency.

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