Japan Going To
Australia For Beef
Pressures US Over Insufficient Mad Cow Measures


TOKYO (Reuters) - Complaining that new U.S. procedures to deal with mad cow disease were not good enough, Japan said on Tuesday it would send a team to rival beef exporter Australia to look for alternative supplies.
Japanese Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei told reporters the new measures, announced last week, fell short of what was needed to reassure Japan, the biggest buyer of U.S. beef, over the safety of U.S. meat.
"The safeguards are not up to the level of those (in Japan)," he said, adding he wants the United States to conduct the same type of tests on meat as Japan does.
Japan suspended U.S. beef imports, which amounted to some 234,000 tonnes worth $1.12 billion in 2002, immediately after the December 23 announcement of the first U.S. case of the brain-wasting illness BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
A rare human form of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), can result from eating animal products contaminated with the disorder. It has been linked to around 130 human deaths, mostly in Britain, where BSE devastated the cattle industry in the 1990s.
The U.S. measures include a ban on the use of sick or crippled "downer" cattle for human food, but the country does not test all cattle used for consumption, as Japan does, and has so far responded coolly to the idea.
A Japanese government source told Reuters on Monday that a Japanese technical team was planning to go to the United States this week to review U.S. safety measures.
Japanese officials are also worried that a recovery in domestic beef consumption following Japan's own brush with BSE in 2001 could be derailed, threatening the survival of thousands of restaurants, shops and meat wholesalers across the country.
"When we had BSE in Japan, it was a big shock for us and for the population," Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said on Tuesday.
"Everyone has worked hard since then and confidence in our beef has returned, and my basic stance is that we can't allow anything to shake that confidence," he said.
Nakagawa will visit Washington this week for talks with various U.S. officials and said that beef will be on the agenda.
Japan has confirmed nine cases of mad cow disease since the illness was first discovered in Japan in September 2001, and the ban on U.S. beef has hurt restaurants, many of which had turned to U.S. imports during Japan's BSE outbreak.
Yoshinoya D&C, which operates a chain of 24-hour restaurants selling cheap bowls of beef -- 99 percent of which is from the U.S. -- on rice, has said it may have to stop selling the hugely popular dish if the ban on U.S. beef continues.
Piling more pressure on the United States, Japanese agriculture officials were due to arrive in Australia on Thursday to meet cattle farmers before heading to New Zealand, a Japanese Embassy spokesman in Sydney said on Tuesday.
"They decided to (investigate) Australia and New Zealand's export potential," Koji Otani, a vice-consul at the Japanese Embassy, told Reuters.
Australia exported 277,300 tonnes of beef to Japan worth A$1.4 billion ($1.1 billion) in the year through June 2003, Meat and Livestock Australia figures show. New Zealand exported 10,962 tonnes of beef and veal to Japan in 2002.
Replacing American imports could almost double Australasian beef sales to Japan, but there was concern that demand might outstrip supply -- especially if other Asian nations come shopping for beef, as the industry expects.
(Additional reporting by Michael Smith)
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