North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson is urging the federal government to rethink its strategy for regaining the market for U.S. beef in Japan.
"I have asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns to let U.S. packers voluntarily test all beef they export to Japan for bovine spongiform encephalopathy," Johnson says. "Our best hope for regaining our beef markets in Japan is to give the customers what they want."
Johnson says U.S. policy has failed because USDA has treated the matter as a public health issue, not a marketing issue.
"USDA's approach of continually browbeating the Japanese government into taking a product which is viewed with suspicion by the Japanese consumers has now resulted in even further erosion of Japanese consumer confidence in U.S. beef. Let's give our customers what they want. That has always been the key to success in any business."
Several U.S. packing companies, including Kansas-based Creekstone Farms, have sought to regain the Japanese market by offering beef that is 100% tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but USDA has refused to allow the expanded testing on the grounds that such testing would have a negligible public heath benefit."
It should be the role of government to set minimum testing standards but to always allow companies to exceed those standards - that's product differentiation, a necessary element of effective marketing," Johnson says.
Johnson says that while USDA refused to allow Creekstone and others to use a voluntary test, it has now agreed to require all U.S. companies, that wish to export to Japan, to follow unique, non-scientifically based standards for U.S. beef exports to Japan."
Recently, both a U.S. company and USDA failed to follow these new standards, resulting in the re-closure of our export market to Japan, Johnson says.
"Recent press reports indicate that this finding has further exacerbated deep suspicion among Japanese consumers, and that it could take months to rebuild their confidence in U.S. beef."
USDA must take strong action to regain that confidence.
"What really matters is what the Japanese consumers believe and what they want . . . and right now they do not trust our beef or our system," Johnson says.
In his letter to Johanns, Johnson wrote. "I urge you to demonstrate our good will to Japanese consumers by authorizing U.S. processors to voluntarily implement 100% testing of beef destined for Japanese markets. Let the market work."