All signs pointed toward a positive Japanese government panel ruling regarding resuming beef trade with the U.S. Instead, the Japanese Food Safety Commissions produced no decision in a meeting held Monday because some members could not attend and others brought up last-minute objections.
A few weeks ago a positive preliminary opinion stated that beef products from the United States were low-risk and it was expected the final rule would be similar to the draft. But two key panel members did not attend the meeting and others raised questions surrounding the stipulations Japan would place before resuming trade. A total of four of the twelve members were not in attendance.
Panel members questioned whether the United States could maintain strict protocols on removing all specified risk materials safely and other procedures for guaranteeing that all beef shipped is from cattle under 21 months of age.
Meatingplace.com also reports that Yasuhiro Yoshikawa, chairman of the investigating panel, also warned that if "precautions are not strictly followed, the border could be closed again instantly at any time."
President Bush is scheduled in Tokyo on Nov. 15 for meetings with Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi. Recent news of the positive draft report had some believing the market reopening would be announced then. However, the panel is not planned to meet until early November, making an agreement difficult to announce on Nov. 15.
Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato sent a letter to Senate Ag Chairman Saxby Chambliss saying that Japan's Food Safety Commission will once again try to finalize the draft document at its next meeting, expected to be held next week. However, once the scientific evaluation has been made, the U.S. import of beef will resume only upon completion of the following procedural steps taking at a minimum four months:
- The FSC will decide at its immediate next plenary session to put that conclusion to a public comment procedure of four weeks.
- The FSC will consider comments by the public for a week.
- The FSC will officially adopt the conclusion of the Committee and report to the
- Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Ministry or Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
- The Ministries will hold several explanations sessions to the public as necessary.
- The Japanese Government and the U.S. Government will officially reconfirm the conditions that are included in the Joint Press Statement of October 23, 2004.
- The Japanese Government will notify the conditions to its quarantine and animal quarantine offices, importers and other persons concerned.