Japan, South Korea Wary Of U.S. Beef

AMERICAN BEEF SLOWLY re-entered lucrative foreign markets, but the comeback was anything but smooth in South Korea and Japan. In January, Singapore and South Korea planned to lift their bans and Thailand was working on an agreement to reopen its markets to U.S. beef. The prohibitions were originally put in place after the U.S. reported confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow

AMERICAN BEEF SLOWLY re-entered lucrative foreign markets, but the comeback was anything but smooth in South Korea and Japan.

In January, Singapore and South Korea planned to lift their bans and Thailand was working on an agreement to reopen its markets to U.S. beef.

The prohibitions were originally put in place after the U.S. reported confirmed cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, in December 2003.

Japan lifted its restrictions in December 2005, only to reinstate the ban in January 2006, after shipments of U.S. veal cuts were found to contain backbone, which was barred under the export agreement.

Later in the year, South Korea rejected shipments of U.S. beef that contained small fragments of bone, a banned material. As of early December, South Korea had returned three shipments of American beef and suspended imports from the U.S. slaughterhouse that processed the meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also made plans midyear to cut back on cattle testing to reduce costs. Many consumer groups opposed the decision and some were worried that it would jeopardize the resumption of trade with Japan and South Korea.

Mike Johanns, the U.S. agriculture secretary, said he thought it necessary to be honest about plans to scale back on testing and said he believed it should not hurt the relationship with Japan or South Korea. Despite Japan's expressed worries, the USDA carried out the plan.

In Japan, consumer acceptance of American beef was mixed. Costco Wholesale club stores in Japan sold out of about five metric tons of U.S. beef introduced in Tokyo Costco stores on the first day, the U.S. Meat Export Federation said. However, acceptance was said to be poor in other markets.

Japanese consumers in general are wary of foreign products. Indeed, the majority of consumers said they had no intention of buying U.S. beef in an August survey by a leading Japanese research firm.