By Tim Leeds 

Japan fully opens to U.S. beef imports


Montana might be able to up its beef trade with Japan, with the final relaxation of restrictions in place since 2003.

A release from U.S. Department of Agriculture said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced today that the United States and Japan have agreed on new terms and conditions “that eliminate Japan’s longstanding restrictions on U.S. beef exports, paving the way for expanded sales to the United States’ top global beef market.”

Japan placed restrictions on U.S. beef after a head of cattle in Washington state tested positive in 2003 for bovine spongiform encephalophathy, also called BSE or mad cow disease.

Japan had relaxed its restrictions over the last 15 years, but still had some restrictions in place.

The new terms, which the release said take effect immediately, allow U.S. products from all cattle, regardless of age, to enter Japan for the first time since 2003. 

“This is great news for American ranchers and exporters who now have full access to the Japanese market for their high-quality, safe, wholesome, and delicious U.S. beef,” Perdue said in the release. “We are hopeful that Japan’s decision will help lead other markets around the world toward science-based policies.”

The confirmation of the disease in both the U.S. and Canada led to restrictions in 2003 both against U.S. exports and from U.S. imports from Canada.

BSE, a brain-wasting disease, was first found in Britain in 1986. Scientists believe the disease is spread through cattle feed made with brain and spinal cord tissue from infected cows.

They also believe people can contract a similar fatal disease — variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — when they eat meat from cattle infected with BSE.

The December 2003 incident was the first confirmed case in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists five more cases since, in 2005 in Texas, 2006 in Alabama, 2012 in California, 2017 in Alabama and last year in Florida.

Many of the restrictions put in place in 2003 had eased over the years, but this is the first time since 2003 that Japan will allow products from U.S. cattle of any age into the country.

South Korea, another historically major importer of U.S. beef, still restricts access for beef from cattle older than 30 months.

“Japan based its decision on sound science and we encourage all U.S. trading partners, including Korea, to do the same,” USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Press Team said in an email to the Havre Daily this morning.

The release said U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that this expanded access could increase U.S. beef and beef product exports to Japan by up to $200 million annually.

“The agreement is also an important step in normalizing trade with Japan, as Japan further aligns its import requirements with international standards for bovine spongiform encephalopathy,” it added.

Japan banned U.S. beef and beef products in December 2003 following the detection of the BSE-positive animal in the United States.

In December 2005, Japan restored partial access for U.S. beef muscle cuts and offal items from cattle 20 months of age and younger.

In February 2013, Japan extended access to include beef and beef products from cattle less than 30 months of age. 

Japan eliminated its age-based BSE testing on domestic Japanese cattle in April 2017, paving the way for similar age-based restrictions to be lifted on negligible BSE-risk trading partners, including the United States.

Japan’s Food Safety Commission Jan. 15 concluded eliminating the age restriction for beef from the United States, Canada and Ireland posed a negligible risk to human health. Based on the FSC risk assessment, Japan began consultations with the United States to revise its import requirements in order to align with the BSE guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health.

The new terms and conditions will be posted May 20 to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Export Library at and the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Export Verification Program web page at


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