Cantwell Applauds Agreement to Resume U.S. Beef Exports to Japan, Calls for Continued Pressure for Swift Implementation

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded the agreement reached Wednesday to resume U.S. beef exports to Japan, hailing the announcement as great news for Washington’s ranchers, who have suffered under the ban. However, with the agreement contingent upon Japan’s auditing of U.S. facilities, Cantwell emphasized the need for the administration to ensure that Japan holds firmly to the proposed timeline.

“American ranchers and the U.S. beef industry have suffered considerably from the prolonged closure of this important market,” said Cantwell. “Today’s announcement is a critical step toward regaining the dominant international market share we once had. It is vitally important, however, that our government and processing facilities work together to make certain any and all products headed to Japan are in compliance with the agreements we’ve signed. We need to reassure the rest of the world of what we already know—that U.S. beef is safe and of the highest quality in the world. President Bush and our trade officials must make certain Japan holds to the proposed timeline for completing inspections of authorized export facilities.”

Japan will resume beef imports from the U.S. once Japanese inspection officials conduct audits on all 35 beef processing plants authorized as eligible suppliers to Japan. Following the inspection, Japan will only allow the continuation of shipments from U.S. plants that meet requirements. Currently, Japan is set to complete the audits of U.S. facilities by July 21.

Cantwell has worked continuously since the import ban went into effect in 2003 to strengthen beef safety regulation and increase Japan’s confidence in American beef. As the sponsor of the Animal Feed Protection Act of 2005, Cantwell has worked to close feed loopholes that could lead to BSE infections in American cattle, and has written several letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture urging common sense regulations to keep the materials that pose the highest risk of spreading Mad Cow disease out of all animal feed. Cantwell has also worked to improve the tracking of live cattle imported from Canada. In September 2005 the Senate approved $100,000 she requested to develop and implement a system to track cattle imported from Canada to feed lots in Washington.

After the 2003 discovery of a BSE-infected cow in Washington State, Japan closed its borders to American beef, even though the calf was of Canadian origin. Since the closure, Washington state cattle producers have lost $190 million each year, and the U.S. meat industry has lost 10,000 jobs overall. Japan was the largest importer of U.S. beef prior to 2004. After a brief and partial reopening of Japan’s markets in December 2005, the country once again implemented a full ban February after the discovery of banned material in a shipment of U.S. beef.