The Japanese government has launched a diplomatic campaign to boost beef exports by securing international recognition for its beef as having “negligible risk” of BSE.
It has already filed an application with the Office International des Épizooties (OIE), the world animal health organisation, to confirm the safety of Japanese beef when it next general session meets in May.
Beef products from Japan are currently listed as “controlled risk” - the same as the UK, the US, Canada and most member states of the European Union. Japan’s ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries also pointed out that Japan has only reported a total of 36 cases of cows infected with the disease and the last confirmed case was 11 years ago.
Announcing that Tokyo would be pushing for the OIE to relax its classification, agriculture minister Akira Gunji emphasised that strenuous efforts have been made to ensure that Japanese beef was safe for human consumption.
A range of prevention efforts have been implemented, he said, including close controls on the feed that is provided to cattle and new regulations on production processes. The domestic industry – with its flagship Wagyu and Kobe beef - supported the government’s campaign.
“Many steps have been taken to ensure quality, such as rules on removing SRM [specified risk material], the new law on bovine traceability and changes to the Act on Safety Assurance and Quality Improvement of Feeds, which prohibits feeding meat and bone meal to bovines,” said Kaori Iwatou, a spokeswoman for the Japan Livestock Industry Association.
Japan’s biggest exporter of beef is JA Zen-noh Meat Foods, while the biggest markets for its premium-quality products are Hong Kong and Singapore.
The limited production of quality beef products such as Wagyu means that they command high prices. Consequently, the domestic industry does not anticipate a huge increase in sales volumes should the OIE down-grade Japan’s BSE risk assessment, but it would reduce red tape as well as burnishing the reputation of Japanese beef. And any simplification of export efforts would be welcome, Iwatou said.