040218 U.S. Beef Left to Rot in Japan's Ports

February 22, 2004

Mainichi Shimbun, Japan - Large quantities of U.S.-made beef, worth about 10 billion yen, have been stranded at ports across the country since the government totally banned American beef imports in December following the outbreak of the mad cow disease, industry sources say.

Importers are required to spend a total of 50 million yen a day to store the beef in containers, and if they incinerate all the meat, it will require them to foot a combined 1.3 billion yen.

"If we incinerate the meat, 10 billion yen worth of meat will go up in smoke. Moreover, we'll be required to spend some 1.3 billion yen to incinerate it. We are wondering whether we can avoid burning the meat," remarked a high-ranking official of an association of beef importers.

Japan imposed a total ban on beef imports from the United States in Dec. 24 last year following the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

Even though the government permitted the sale of U.S. beef that went through customs procedures before then, all American beef that has arrived after that time has been stranded at ports.

About 11,000 tons of American beef and 2,000 tons are kept in containers at ports throughout the nation and warehouses, respectively, according to the industry organization.

Of the 13,000 tons, some 2,000 tons are chilled while the rest of the meat is frozen. Officials of the industry association say frozen meat can last for a year or two. However, importers must pay some 50,000 yen a day to store meat in a single container. Thirty-two member companies of the association are believed to have up to 1,000 containers.

The association asked the ministry for permission to import the meat, claiming that the stranded beef is almost equal in quality to the meat that cleared customs procedures shortly before the ban was imposed.

However, the ministry dismissed the request. "We can't permit imports of the meat until its safety is confirmed," a bureaucrat was quoted as telling the association.

U.S. exporters have refused to buy back the meat on the grounds that the Japanese government has banned imports of the meat that they claim is "absolutely safe."

Following the outbreak of BSE in Japan in 2001, the government bought back some 13,000 tons of domestic beef from food companies, and incinerate all of it.


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