OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – Ranchers welcomed Japan’s decision Monday to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports, saying it will provide a boost to the American meat industry but cautioning that it will take time before exports to Japan reach their levels of a decade ago.
Japan is one of the biggest importers of U.S. beef, despite restrictions that for years haven’t allowed the import of beef from cattle older than 20 months instead of the industry standard of 30 months. Those restricted imports were only allowed after Japan banned U.S. beef altogether in 2003 after the U.S. recorded its first case of mad cow disease, which can cause a fatal brain disease in humans.
The news of the expanded export market is especially welcome now because the beef industry has been hurt by several years of high feed prices and the drought that hit cattle country hard the past two years, said J.D. Alexander, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“It’s a great shot in the arm,” said Alexander, who runs a feedlot and corn farm near Pilger in northeast Nebraska. “This is going to help the profitability of the beef industry.”
U.S. beef producers eventually hope to restore Japanese sales to their 2003 levels, when Japan was the U.S.’s biggest customer, buying 918 million pounds of beef. If Japan’s loosening of restrictions leads to higher demand overall, American consumers may pay more for beef.
But the North American Meat Association says the effect on prices is likely to be limited because many popular cuts of meat in Japan, like tongue, aren’t popular in America.
Still, the U.S. Meat Export Federation predicts that exports to Japan will grow to nearly 500 million pounds this year now that the restrictions are eased. That would be worth $1.5 billion. Japan imported 317.2 million pounds in the first 11 months of 2012 and 456 million pounds of U.S. beef in 2011.
The number of cattle in the U.S. is down because Plains ranchers have been selling off much of their herds because they can’t afford to feed them. The supply of cattle is lean enough that Cargill shut down one of its processing plants near Plainview, Texas this month.
Ranchers will likely be glad to have any positive news in the midst of the drought. Exports accounted for nearly 11 percent of U.S. beef production in 2011 and 9 percent of the total in 2010.
“Anytime we have an expansion of access to an export market, it’s good news for us,” said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen trade group.
Iowa State University livestock economist Lee Schulz said he thinks it will take time for American beef to regain market share in Japan because Australian producers have been serving the market well since 2003.
“Australia is not just going to give up the market share they’ve gained,” Schulz said.
And some Japanese consumers may still be uneasy about U.S. beef, Schulz said.
Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal human brain disease in people who eat tainted beef. The World Health Organization has said tests show humans cannot be infected by drinking milk from infected animals.
Japan banned American beef for three years between 2003 and 2006, and it only resumed imports after imposing tough safety standards. U.S. exporters must remove spinal columns, brain tissue and other parts considered linked to mad cow disease from any shipments to Japan.
Japan also insisted that no beef from cattle older than 20-months-old be imported because younger cattle are believed to pose less of a risk of carrying mad cow disease.
For years, U.S. officials had criticized that 20-month standard because they said it wasn’t supported by science. Japanese officials yielded on Monday.
Follow Josh Funk online at
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.
- 6 of the biggest skin cancer myths
- Affordable small home makeover ideas
- Locals helping locals: 6 success stories you need to know about
- Sunscreen facts that could save your life
- 6 energy saving hacks for your home
- 5 tips for choosing a company to end your timeshare
- Overlooked water tips to save you money
- 5 of the most adored gentlemen in professional sports today
- The real danger of sitting at your desk
- Most surprising NBA playoff performances of the last 40 years
- 11 classic baseball movies you must see again
- Finally getting rid of fat: 3 methods that actually work
- 4 reasons cancer survivors should focus on food
- 5 spring cleaning spots everyone forgets
- 5 reasons to look forward to watching the D-backs this season
- Common virus attributed to spike in head and neck cancers
- 5 signs it’s time to end your timeshare ownership
- 3 most overlooked ways to keep your home healthy
- 6 ways the air in your home could be making you sick
- CrossFit dangers: 5 common injuries and how to deal with them
- Today's radiation treatments offer better success, fewer side effects
- Tips to make watching TV on the patio even better
- What really happens when you donate to a community college?
- Sun and skin cancer: Separating fact from fiction
- 5 critical lifestyle changes for a healthy colon