Japan closed its market to U.S. beef in December of 2003, after the discovery of a Canadian-born cow infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States. At that time, Japan was the largest export market for U.S. beef, valued at $1.4 billion. Since then, Japan has had restrictions in place on U.S. beef imports and currently only allows imports of beef from cattle aged 20 months and younger. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus said the restrictions put U.S. cattlemen and women at a competitive disadvantage without any science-based rationale.

 “The United States hasn’t taken BSE lightly. We have multiple safeguards currently in place that have prevented BSE from taking hold in our country. We haven’t had any cases of BSE since 2003 and have avoided any type of widespread epidemic of the disease,” said Bacus. “The trade barriers Japan has in place on U.S. beef appear to motivated by something other than science.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has aggressively enhanced its BSE surveillance system since 1990, testing at levels 40 times higher than recommended by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). As a result, out of a U.S. cattle inventory numbering nearly 100 million head every year, there have only been three confirmed cases of BSE since 2003. In contrast, Japan, with an annual cattle inventory of only 4.5 million head, has had 36 cases of BSE since 2003. Because of these efforts, the United States is classified as a controlled risk country by the OIE, which indicates that U.S. beef products are completely safe for export and consumption. 

“If Japan asks for inclusion in the TPP negotiations, we encourage you to press Japanese leaders to immediately relax its restrictions on U.S. beef to be fully consistent with OIE guidelines and reopen its market,” the senators penned. “At the very least, Japan should agree to immediately relax its age restrictions to 30 months and address other issues necessary to achieve a commercially-viable, science-based import protocol, while also laying a clear pathway for eventual full OIE compliance. Likewise, we would have serious reservations with any TPP agreement submitted to Congress that includes Japan if it has not made commitments to fully complete this process, as well as eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers on its TPP partners’ agricultural exports.”