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Japan opens door wider for Canadian beef

Japan, the No. 4 customer for Canadian beef, has agreed to accept meat from animals 30 months or younger as of Feb. 1. Shipments had been restricted to meat from cattle 21 months and younger, a safeguard against BSE.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told a news conference Jan. 28 that the move, which followed years of lobbying by Canada, could see beef exports double to $150 million a year.

Ritz said the announcement comes on the heels of the return of Canadian beef to Korea, an international ruling against American discrimination on Canadian imports and growing shipments to China.

Unrau said Canada will be able to send beef to Japan on a year-round basis, which meets Japan’s need for a more consistent supply of Canadian beef. “Japan is an extremely important market and this expanded access will breathe new life into the Canadian beef cattle sector.”

Like many other countries, Japan banned Canadian beef after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in 2003. Canada had gained access for the under-21-month cattle in 2005 and had been expecting the broader access for months.

Ray Price, chairman of the Canadian Meat Council, said the announcement was welcome after “a long and arduous undertaking that must be negotiated on a government-to-government basis.”

Japan’s refusal to fully open its market is more restrictive than recommended by the International Animal Health Organization, but “they do represent a landmark step along the road to the restoration of normal trade,“ Price added.

“Although the Japanese have high expectations for quality, they reward exporters who meet these expectations,” said meat council executive director Jim Laws. “We look forward to rapid progress on the Canada-Japan Economic Partnership negotiations that were announced by the Canadian and Japanese governments earlier this year.”

Unrau said the under-21-months rule had “presented a significant challenge to Canada’s ability to supply beef to Japan on a year-round basis. As the majority of Canadian calves are born in the late winter and early spring, the U21 cut-off typically means few cattle qualify for Japan between December and April. The expansion of beef access to UTM resolves this issue and enables Canadian beef exporters to better serve Japanese meat importers who have wanted a steady year-round supply.”

There never was any scientific rationale for the Japanese ban, Unrau said. “We are confident that all Canadian beef is safe due to our BSE surveillance and strong control measures and it is gratifying to have the Japanese scientific community and health officials agree.”

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