WASHINGTON – More than three months after a dairy cow in Moses Lake,Wash.,tested positive for mad cow disease,Kansas beef exports continue to suffer,especially because the largest importer of Kansas beef remains unsatisfied with U.S. attempts to remedy the situation.
Mad cow disease,scientifically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy,or BSE,originates in a cow's nervous system and can cause an incurable disease in people who consume contaminated meat.
Although Mexico resumed importing some Kansas beef last month,Japan is holding out for a U.S. beef safety system that monitors all processed cattle for signs of the disease.
In prior years,Japan had been the largest importer of Kansas beef.
Nationwide,this trade is worth $1.4 billion a year,said Todd Domer of the Kansas Livestock Association.
Tadashi Sato,Japan's agricultural attaché,said the timeframe for Kansas beef to be reintroduced in Japan “is up to the U.S. At this time we are waiting for the proposal” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One such proposal came up and was rejected within the past week.
In a letter from Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to Yoshiyuki Kamei,minister of agriculture,forestry and fisheries in Tokyo,Veneman proposed the two governments agree upon “well-defined questions” to ask of experts at the World Organization for Animal Health,based in Paris.
By the end of April,the panel would confer with experts from each country and announce recommendations to “enable the resumption of trade as appropriate,” the letter stated.
At a National Press Club luncheon Tuesday where tender pink sirloin lamb was the main course,Veneman said much of the international community agrees there is no “scientific-basis” for testing every beef steer set for slaughter.
But Sato,who attended the luncheon,said conclusions would be “impossible” to reach within a month.
Moreover,he said the proposal was “quite a disappoint for the Japanese government because the Japanese government has been asking the U.S. government to consider our concerns,and we would like to see the USDA introduce the same safety system or at least an equivalent” of the one Japan uses.
There's at least one alternative proposal meeting the Japanese requests,Sato said,and it's based in Arkansas City,Kan.
Bill Fielding,chief operating officer of the town's Creekstone Farms Premium Beef LLC,a meat processing plant,said the company was “cautiously optimistic” that the Agriculture Department will approve Creekstone's new beef safety plan.
Employees would monitor rapid diagnostic testing labs for signs of mad cow in all beef cattle,including those younger than 30 months,which are not included in the Agriculture Department's testing system. At $20 a head,the system could check 300,000 cattle annually – a $6 million price tag,Fielding said.
“Why does the government have the ability to stop the business decision to respond to the customer that the customer is asking for it to be tested?” Fielding said. “If this is not a food safety issue,why can't we do it?
The Japanese government favors the idea,but until the Agriculture Department approves this testing,it remains illegal.
The Agriculture Department in March announced its own $70 million expanded surveillance program,which increases the number of cattle tested by more than 47 times the previous regulation standards. The plan will test 201,000 head of cattle older than 30 months.
Seven thousand will be from Kansas.
Defending his goal,Fielding said Creekstone has “incorporated all the protocol that's now in place in Japan and Europe.
“If customers in Japan and elsewhere want that,then it should be done,” Fielding said. “What's the harm in being safer than safe?”