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Countries Take Steps To Ban U.S. Beef

Top Two Importers, Japan and South Korea, Set Bans, Plan Recalls 

Wall Street Journal 24dec03

[USDA Briefing on Discovery Of Mad Cow Disease in U.S. - AP 23dec03]

A number of countries took steps Wednesday to halt imports of U.S. beef following the discovery of the first case of suspected mad-cow disease in the U.S.


For 2002, in thousands of US$:

Japan 		       843,021 
South Korea 	       609,742 
Mexico 		       595,691 
Canada		       286,282 
Hong Kong & China	72,097 
Taiwan 			49,774 
Russia			14,613 
World		     2,585,373 

Retail equivalent value of U.S. 
beef industry in 2002: $65 billion.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. 
Meat Export Federation

Japan, the number one importer of U.S. beef, imposed an indefinite ban and planned to recall certain meat products already on the market, while South Korea halted customs inspections of U.S. beef and suspended sales of meat already on supermarket shelves.

Officials in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia followed suit with temporary bans. Russia also announced plans to suspend imports. Mexico also banned imports of U.S. beef Wednesday morning.

The moves came only hours after the U.S. government announced that a Holstein cow on a Washington state farm tested positive for mad-cow disease.

Meanwhile, the European Union, which already bans much U.S. beef because of fears about growth hormones, said it wouldn't take any additional measures.

Antonia Mochan, a spokeswoman at the European Commission, said that the U.S. was already classified as an "at-risk country" as part of the sweeping EU measures adopted following the United Kingdom's mad-cow crisis, which began in the late 1980s and spread across western Europe.

Under those restrictions, imports of specific risk products, such as brains, are banned.

The EU has maintained a ban on most U.S. beef treated with growth-promoting hormones despite a 1998 ruling from the World Trade Organization that declared the ban illegal.

New Zealand agricultural authorities said Wednesday they saw no reason to place a ban on U.S. beef imports because measures introduced to protect and monitor imports from North America when a case of mad cow disease was diagnosed in Canada in May were still in place.

"There is a great deal of cattle movement between Canada and the U.S. and we have been treating those populations as homogenous," the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture said in a joint statement.

New Zealand authorities said the country imported few beef products from the U.S. and these were all assessed as low risk for transmitting the disease.

The immediate reaction from Asian nations reflected the widespread use of U.S. beef in Asia, where American eating habits -- evidenced by the proliferation of fast-food outlets -- have gained tremendous popularity in recent decades.

Exporters in Australia, a major beef exporter in Asia, stood to gain. Stock in beef exporter Australian Agricultural Co. Limited jumped nearly 13% Wednesday in anticipation of new sales opportunities.

Japan's Agriculture Ministry said its ban applied to beef and beef products and took effect immediately.

"We must ban beef imports from the United States for the time being," said Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi. "We must recall products that include so-called "dangerous parts," such as brains and spinal cords.

Japan is the largest overseas market in value terms for U.S. beef. Exports totaled $842 million in 2002, accounting for 32% of the market for U.S. exports, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. South Korea is No. 2 in value, with $610 million. Mexico, the top importer of U.S. beef in volume terms, was third in value in 2002, a federation official in Seoul said.

Japanese authorities have been especially leery about mad-cow disease since the nation's herds suffered the first recorded outbreak of the disease in Asia in September 2001, causing meat consumption to plunge. Consumption, however, has since rebounded.

Tokyo moved ahead with the ban despite assurances from U.S. officials that the American beef supply was safe.

Japan banned the import of Canadian beef after a single case of the disease was confirmed in Ottawa on May 20, and Tokyo had expressed concern that some Canadian beef could slip into Japan via the U.S.

The ban on U.S. imports comes as Japan is still grappling with doubts about its domestic beef supply. The country quarantined 604 cows in October to prevent the spread of the disease after authorities confirmed that a 23-month-old bull had a new strain of the bovine illness -- the nation's eighth case.

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