After Japanese health officials inspected 35 beef processing plants the week of July 17-22, finding few problems, Japan announced the lifting of its contentious, extended ban on U.S. beef shipped to that country.

For about 30 months, because of fears stemming from possible detections of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in American cattle spanning more than a year, Japan had shut its doors to what was the No. 1 export market, in terms of revenue, for American cattlemen.

“This has been a long process as we've confirmed that our system is in full compliance with Japan's import requirements and provided Japan with clear, scientific data confirming that American beef is extremely safe,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in a released statement July 27.

However, Japan's agreement is conditional. Officials say Japan will only accept U.S. beef under 20 months of age and from a limited number of accredited meat plants.

Jay Truitt, with the National Cattleman's Beef Association, thinks that Japan's limited reopening doesn't go far enough.

“Everyone of these restrictions adds cost to the system — that's not what we want,” he said.

U.S. representatives are trying to persuade Japanese officials to deny specific shipments, rather than close trade activity entirely — as it has done in the past — if a future health violation or disease detection occurs. “Our understanding and expectation of our agreement with the Japanese is that this would be handled on an individualized, case-by-case basis between the buyers and sellers and wouldn't halt our trade,” said Ed Loyd, USDA spokesman.

Meanwhile, U.S. cattlemen continue to be left out of the South Korea market, which once was the United States No. 3 market.

Johanns said he has hopes that the international community can reach common ground on international health safety guidelines for trade agreements.

“As we look forward, we must also continue to strive to move beef trade with Japan and throughout the world toward science-based international guidelines. Science provides us with clear data upon which to build trade standards. All of us must be mindful of these guidelines and work toward complying with them.”