The announcement follows the successful visit by a Japanese delegation to production sites in the UK in 2017, more than 20 years after the ban was implemented over Britain’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak. Of around 190,000 cattle infected with BSE worldwide, 180,000 head were raised in Britain.
However, no infection has been found in the country since a 2009-born cow tested positive in 2015, prompting Japan to consider importing beef from cattle 30 months old or younger. Spinal marrow and other such parts that are considered high-risk will continue to be banned, however.
Campbell Davis, second secretary economic and trade at the British Embassy Tokyo, said that since the UK applied for the ban to be lifted in 2012, the British Embassy has “worked closely with UK government and industry groups and with Japanese agriculture and food safety officials to complete Japan's rigorous market access procedures and demonstrate the safety and quality of UK produce”.
The officials, from Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, inspected food hygiene controls in British farms, laboratories and abattoirs in July 2017. According to Davis, the Japanese team were “impressed by the overall animal health controls and testing regime”.
This year (2018), the Japanese and UK governments are to agree controls on animal health requirements and an export verification programme, after which another Japanese delegation will conduct a final on-site inspection in the UK, he added.
George Eustice, Britain’s minister of state for agriculture, fisheries and food, has welcomed the progress, calling the UK’s beef sector a “global success story” that is worth more than £2.8 billion (US$3.87bn) in production, with exports to 84 countries.
“Opening the market to Japan could boost the industry by an estimated £15m [US$20.7m] each year, driving growth for our farmers and producers, and increasing our global reputation for great taste and quality,” he said.
British beef, however, will face strong competition in Japan, where Australian beef took 52% of the beef import market in fiscal 2016, followed by the USA with 39%, according to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Farming and Fisheries.
Industry experts therefore predict British beef producers may focus on Japan’s high-end beef market.
Dr Phil Hadley, international market development director of the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), said “Japan is a lucrative market for specific premium beef products.”