United States officials say they are disappointed in Japan's continued insistence that all U.S. cattle be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as BSE or mad cow disease.

“Japanese Ministry of Agriculture authorities have continued to insist that testing of all animals and removal of specific risk materials are conditions for entry of U.S. beef products in the Japanese market. International experts, as noted in the recent report of the international scientific panel that reviewed the U.S. system, agree there is no scientific basis for 100 percent testing,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U. S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick in an April 1 statement.

After the first North American case of BSE was discovered in Canada in May 2003, Japan began asking U.S. packers to verify that U.S. beef products were not made from Canadian cattle. Japan later shut its doors to U.S. beef entirely in reaction to the discovery of a cow in Washington state that tested positive for mad cow disease.

Japanese trade officials have also told U.S. cattlemen that Japan isn't likely to re-open its borders to U.S. beef until they are assured that U.S. beef products are from U.S. cattle only, because the North American countries are too intertwined.

In March, U.S. administration officials asked Japan to consider bringing the two countries together in a joint technical consultation with the World Organization for Animal Health on the issue of bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“Much has been learned in recent experiences with BSE and scientific consultations are warranted to enable trade in beef and beef products to resume. We have shared with all of our trading partners the results of our extensive investigation into BSE, including our aggressive response to an international panel of experts' recommendations,” Veneman and Zoellick said.

Both U.S. officials agree that the most appropriate next step is for the scientific experts at the World Organization for Animal Health to consult and agree upon measures that are based on science. “We have assurances that they would commit to an aggressive timetable to review a commonly accepted definition of BSE and related testing methodologies as well as a common definition of specified risk materials,” Veneman and Zoellick said. ”We have submitted our system and measures to scrutiny by international experts and see no reason why Japan should be reluctant to do likewise.”

In addition, Veneman and Zoellick say they are “disappointed” that the Japanese response to the United States' proposal was conveyed through the press instead of Japan engaging in constructive dialogue about the merits of the proposal. “We urge the government of Japan to agree to an OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) consultation and to assure that its measures are consistent with its international commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization,” they say.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com