U.S. weekly beef exports to Japan hit two-year high

Fri Feb 22, 2013 12:16pm EST

* Sales hike comes after Japan relaxes import rules
    * Rules were put in place after US mad cow disease

    By Theopolis Waters
    CHICAGO, Feb 22 (Reuters) -   U.S. beef export sales to
Japan soared to the highest in more than two years last week
following Tokyo's decision to ease import rules related to the
outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003, government data showed on
Friday.
    Japan, once the top market for U.S. beef, on Feb 1 began
allowing U.S. beef imports from cattle up to 30 months old, a
minimum risk for the disease.
    A complete ban on beef imports was lifted by Japan in 2006,
when it allowed beef from cattle 20 months or younger.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly export sales
data on Friday showed Japan, the world's largest beef importer,
bought 10,900 tonnes in the week ended Feb. 17, the most since
12,497 tonnes in the week ended Dec. 23, 2010.
    Total U.S. beef sales last week to all destinations were
22,200 tonnes, the most since 23,500 tonnes during the week of
April 12, 2012.
   Increasing the age limit allows leading U.S. beef processors
such as Cargill Inc, Tyson Foods and JBS USA
Holdings Inc to compete for market share lost primarily
to Australia.
    Chicago Mercantile Exchange live cattle futures were higher
on Friday, due in part to news of the strong beef sales to
Japan.
    The timing of Japan's purchases also comes when beef prices
in the United States are reaching record highs, as the worst
drought in more than half a century reduced the herd to the
smallest in 61 years.
    U.S. government monthly data showed the retail price of beef
hit a record high in January at $5.24 per lb. It was up from the
December price of $5.11 and surpassed the previous all-time high
of $5.15 set in November.
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