The U.S. beef industry has not been keen on the idea of instituting a widespread testing program for cattle at slaughter to detect bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), but pressure from trading partners could change all that. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that officials and the industry may be backing off on resistance to wider testing, in part because the biggest beef trading partner is demanding more extensive change.
Japanese officials arrive in the U.S. today to discuss the country's two-week-old ban on U.S. beef imports. The $1 billion-plus beef importer closed its doors to U.S. beef the evening USDA announced its finding of a BSE-infected cow in Washington state. And despite the fact that officials have confirmed the cow was an import, trading partners don't appear to be budging in talks to reopen markets.
U.S. industry supports have long said there's no need to test cattle in this country. Japan tests every cow slaughtered for presence of the disease, but its cattle industry is a small fraction of the size of the U.S. industry. Japan's effort also goes against established research that shows the disease takes at least 30 months to develop. Japan has found two cattle under 30 months of age infected with BSE, a new strain they claim, but the latest find was not independently confirmed.
In Europe tests are run for all cattle over 30 months of age, since it takes that long for BSE to develop in cattle. And it's this 30-month standard that could be considered in the United States.
Japanese officials have indicated that trade won't restart without the U.S. taking steps to broaden testing, and that may have industry officials considering such a move. The infrastructure for implementing such a broad test would have to be developed. Currently, the U.S. has only a single lab where BSE testing is carried out.