Reopening the Japanese market to U.S. beef after a hiccup over a veal shipment several months ago has not been easy. This week auditors from Japan are visiting packing plants to review U.S. inspection procedures. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, during a "press gaggle" Tuesday, discussed the process for moving toward a resumption of trade.
"The comments from Japan are very encouraging these days, and it's especially encouraging to see the comment that one problem with the shipment would not stop trade, that they would deal with the individual plant," he notes. "We're anxious to get through the audits, deal with whatever issues are there."
Johanns expressed his sentiment that there was some confusion about recent announcements on beef trade. "I didn't want anybody to have the impression that somehow beef was heading back to Japan. We still have some process to get through here. So that's the point I wanted to make. I especially didn't want anyone on the Hill, House or Senate side, to feel like they were being misled that somehow I had reached an agreement and beef was moving back into Japan. We've got a ways to go yet."
One issue with the Japanese discussions revolves around whether to move forward with all processing plants, or to exclude some plants that might not meet Japanese requirements. Johanns expressed an interest in having all plants involved, however, there is talk that if a plant or two does not meet Japanese standards, they could be left out of trade resumption. "If there's a single plant that's not ready for shipment we make that determination here in the United States, that's a different matter," he says. "But we see our whole system as a system that approves all plants."
He notes that if a plant simply doesn't understand the system, hasn't don any training and hasn't followed the steps USDA has put in place "then that's pretty obvious to us that they're not ready for beef shipments to Japan," he adds.
During the press talk, Johanns was asked about Canada's new stricter feed rules that remove specified risk material from all animal feeds. Johanns notes he was not surprised by the Canadian decision, noting he had talked with the country's Minister of Agriculture over the weekend.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working on revised feed rules, but Johanns didn't know when those would be available, but notes that "we have found so little BSE in the United States. It's just virtually nonexistent."