Japan asks "Where's the beef?"

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Japanese beef consumers have presented a petition to bring back American beef.

Shortages of beef in Japan prompted consumers to submit a petition with about 1.19 million signatures to Japan's Agriculture Minister Yoshinobu Shimamura on Tuesday. The petition was presented by a group led by Takashi Sakamoto, president of a chain of used book outlets.

Japan has banned imports of U.S. beef for 15 months, citing concerns about mad cow disease after authorities discovered a cow with the disease in the United States.

Japanese health and agriculture ministers said they would ask their country's food safety commission to approve lifting the ban.

"We will ask the commission to decide if resuming U.S. beef imports is safe based on safety measures taken in the U.S.," said health minister Makoto Kanie.

Analyst Kazuhiko Saito says this may cause a delay "until later this year", telling Bloomberg, "The Commission has been very slow on reviewing domestic mad cow tests and will also be slow to review the U.S. beef import plans."

U.S. lawmakers and diplomats have pressed Japan to re-open their market, and some Washington lawmakers have even threatened Japan with sanctions should beef imports not resume soon. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought up the matter earlier this month during her visit to Japan.

So far, the Japan Food Safety Commission has only taken the step of loosening inspection rules, such that mad cow testing is not required for all imported live cattle.

Japan has dealt with 14 cases of mad cow disease of their own.