Agriculture Counsellor Berman Discusses Beef in Asahi Article

Point of View - Dan Berman: Enjoying U.S. beef safely and confidently in Japan
Special to The Asahi Shimbun

Dec. 16, 2005

Over the past two years, we at the U.S. Embassy have closely monitored Japanese press coverage of the issues surrounding beef imports from the United States to Japan.

We have often been dismayed to see our efforts to resume trade distorted and dismissed, although we have consistently aimed at resuming trade by using internationally recognized scientific standards for food safety.

Now that the import ban of U.S. beef has been lifted, I would like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed in Japan.

First, it is axiomatic that one of the most fundamental duties of any government is ensuring the safety of its citizens.

The United States takes this responsibility extremely seriously in the area of food safety, both for the 300 million Americans who look to their government to ensure a wholesome food supply, as well as the millions more around the world who share in our bounty through our foodstuff exports.

When our first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was detected 23 months ago, we drew on the best international science, including what had been learned by the European countries with the most experience with BSE.

Since then, we have consistently collaborated with international authorities to implement the measures needed to assure confidence in our beef. High consumption levels in the United States and elsewhere demonstrate we have retained consumer confidence.

It is clear to everyone that the key to ensuring human safety is the removal of the so-called risk materials where the prions are known to concentrate. I myself have enjoyed fugu here, knowing it was safe according to the same principle of removal of the questionable parts of the fish.

Like the U.S. government, the Japanese government has been extremely vigilant in its responsibility to its citizens.

Since December 2003, we have continuously discussed the conditions under which Japan would resume imports of our beef.

Our production system has been studied exhaustively by three Japanese government ministries, as well as the Food Safety Commission. Our officials have made themselves available in Japan to answer all questions, provided thousands of pages of data, and hosted numerous study visits to look at every aspect of our production system.

To try to resume trade expeditiously, the two countries issued a Joint Statement on October 23, 2004, which sets conditions far more strict than any recognized international standard for trade in beef.

More than a year later, we are waiting to welcome the first shipment under this protocol.

It is interesting to remember that Japanese people actually eat U.S. beef every day, outside of Japan. Earlier this year, we commissioned an independent survey of Japanese travelers to the United States and found that 85 percent had enjoyed our beef during their visit.

Now that the Food Safety Commission has issued its draft final report, we look forward to again being able to provide our wholesome, safe, nutritious and affordable beef to the millions of Japanese who signed petitions at restaurants around the country, asking for the ban to be lifted.

With the market open, they will be allowed to exercise their freedom of choice, and I look forward to working tirelessly to continue to provide the information that I hope will convince even the skeptics to join me in enjoying U.S. beef here in Japan.

The author is minister-counselor for Agricultural Affairs at the U.S. Embassy.(IHT/Asahi: December 16,2005)