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MSNBC reports that the Japanese government has informed US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns that consumers there remain concerned about the safety of American beef supplies and that it could take considerable time and effort to reestablish confidence. There is no timetable, at this point, for allowing US beef back into the country.

It was late last month when the import of US beef into Japan was suspended because animal spines were found in three boxes of frozen beef being brought into the country. The discovery reignited concerns in Japan about the possibility that beef tainted with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – better known as mad cow disease – could be coming from US suppliers.

The Japanese lawmakers told Johanns that the new problem was "a serious problem that cannot be dismissed as a simple mistake.
The new discovery and suspension came just a month after a two-year-old ban on US beef was lifted after months of intense negotiation, on the condition that imported US beef come from cattle no older than 20 months and that spinal cords, brains and other parts blamed for spreading the human variant of mad-cow disease be removed.

Before the ban, which was implemented after the first case of BSE was discovered on US soil more than two years ago, Japan was the most lucrative market in the world for American beef, importing than $1.7 billion worth in 2003.
KC's View:
It sounds as if Japanese authorities are going to get tougher with the US, working on the “once fooled, shame on you…twice fooled, shame on me” premise. There likely will be some additional conditions about product traceability established, and new levels of transparency required of US suppliers.

The bigger problem, we feel, is that the US continues to underestimate the problem, apparently thinking that just because cases of BSE have not been found, that means they do not exist. Simple odds suggest that this probably isn’t the case – all it means is that the fewer cows you test, the less likely it is that you’ll find problems.

At the very least, US credibility has been called into question. That’s never a good thing in the global community.