Restrictions imposed on Japan's imports of beef from Canada and the U.S. may be loosened as early as Feb. 1, according to media in Japan quoting that country's health minister.
Japan closed its ports entirely to Canadian beef in 2003, upon Canada's first finding of a domestic cow with BSE. Since late 2005 Japan has allowed imports of Canadian beef, but only from cattle 20 months of age or younger.
That maximum is poised to change to 30 months, allowing Canada and the U.S. -- both long since rated by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) as having a "controlled risk" for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle -- to regain lost market share in the world's No. 2 beef importer.
According to a report Tuesday from the Tokyo-based Kyodo news agency, the new under-30-months (UTM) rule for Canada and the U.S. would also apply to beef imports from France, which now are banned in Japan entirely.
"We're due to change the import restrictions on Feb. 1 if a medicine and food panel of experts gives us approval," Health Minister Norihisa Tamura was quoted as saying by a ministry spokesman, cited Tuesday by the Reuters news agency.
The panel of experts in question is next scheduled to meet on Jan. 28, but it isn't yet clear exactly when the government will announce the detailed regulations, Reuters said.
Kyodo had reported in September 2012 that the Japanese government had reached an in-principle agreements to allow expanded imports from Canada, the U.S., France and the Netherlands.
Kyodo on Tuesday quoted health ministry officials as saying the Japanese government has been in talks with the Dutch government to set an age restriction at up to 12 months. Beef imports from the Netherlands to Japan currently are also banned altogether.
"Best in quality"
Kyodo on Tuesday also quoted ministry officials as saying beef meeting the relaxed criteria from the countries in question is expected to start arriving in Japan around late February to early March.
According to Reuters reporter Risa Maeda, the Japanese government since last fall has held a series of public consultations and also held bilateral talks on how the new safety requirements would be met in the supplying countries.
"We're hoping that the label of 'special to Japan' will be scrapped," Maeda quoted Haruhiko Kizu, a spokesman of Yoshinoya Holdings Co., as saying. Yoshinoya is a restaurant chain operator that continues to use U.S. beef.
"If the age limit is raised to 30 months, that would pave the way for importing beef from cattle aged around 20 months, which we consider the best in quality," Kizu said.
-- Reporting for Reuters by Risa Maeda in Tokyo, with files from AGCanada.com Network staff.
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