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US meat packers demand compulsory BSE testing

16-Mar-2004

US beef processors, fearing the loss of lucrative markets to competitors such as Europe and Australia, are desperate to start exporting again. They are demanding that the USDA tests all their slaughter cattle in order for them to be given a full bill of health, writes Anthony Fletcher.

As a result, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently considering a request by meat packers to test all their slaughter cattle for mad cow disease. However, the department has declined to estimate when a ruling would be made.

But during a news conference this week, chief veterinary officer Ron DeHaven described the industry's proposals as a means of reintroducing exports and not as a disease prevention or detection step. He said that testing all cattle was not justified because younger animals, which provide the bulk of the US beef supply, were "a population we would not expect to test positive".

However, he indicated that the requests from meat packers were "actively under consideration".

The Japanese market as at the focus of the meat packers' attention. It was the number one market for US beef exports before an import ban was put in place following the discovery of BSE in the US.

Japan tests all of its cattle for mad cow disease at slaughter, and has indicated that the US should do the same if it wants to restart importing beef into the country.

US beef exporters are chomping at the bit to restart exports. The Japanese market is highly lucrative and the country is currently running low on stocks. For example Yoshinoya, a nationwide chain that specialises in gyudon - noodles topped with strips of beef - said last month that its supplies of beef have run out, less than two months after the ban was imposed following the discovery of BSE in a cow in the state of Washington.

But the company's president, Shuji Abe, is quoted in the UK's Guardian newspaper as saying that he would not turn to Australia as an alternative supplier, as its beef "just doesn't meet the requirements for gyudon".

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