Cattlemen losing patience with Japanese restrictions

U.S. beef exports in the first half of 2009 are running at about the same pace as last year. That’s despite significant declines in exports to Mexico and Canada.

Beef exports to Japan have been a notable bright spot, increasing by more than 20 percent over their 2008 pace.  Cattle producers continue to be frustrated, however, by the 20-month cattle age limit that still hinders U.S. beef exports to Japan. Montana rancher Jim Peterson, chairman-elect of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, says the 20-month rule is severely limiting the supply of eligible cattle for Japan.

“No question about it,” Peterson says.  “I mean, you run out of the calf-feds about this time of the year-and then you can use yearling cattle, if you’re lucky, until October-November.  Then you have about a four to five month hole there where we don’t have any cattle that can meet the 20-month criteria.”

Peterson believes the U.S. would benefit from an incremental approach to its negotiations with Japan, rather than insisting on immediate access for beef from cattle of all ages.

“If we could get to the 30-month threshold-which I think Japan is willing to do as long as we’re willing to go that incremental approach-that would take care of 90 to 95 percent of the cattle in the U.S. that we’d like to export,” says Peterson. “So, you know, why would we not want to go ahead and capture that opportunity.”

Peterson says the cattle industry and U.S. government officials need to agree on a policy that will provide more access to the Japanese market. 

The 20-month restriction originated several years ago as a compromise measure for reopening the market after the first U.S. case of BSE.

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