WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major U.S. beef customers, including Japan and South Korea, overreacted to the United States’ discovery of mad cow disease four years ago, the meat industry told an independent trade panel on Thursday.
Major U.S. trading partners banned American beef soon after the United States found its first case of mad cow disease in December 2003. Since then, the U.S. has struggled to open major trading markets. This year the U.S. will export about 5 percent of its beef, compared with 10 percent in the past.
“BSE is a case study in overreaction,” John Reddington, vice president for trade at the American Meat Institute, told an International Trade Commission panel. The bans by Japan and South Korea “have no basis” in science and conflict with international animal health guidelines.
The ITC was asked in August by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to report on barriers to U.S. beef sales in major trading partners. The ITC will give its report to the committee by June 6, 2008.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association told ITC that U.S. beef producers, feedlots and processors have lost nearly $12.5 billion in revenue alone to South Korea and Japan since the bans were first put in place. Before mad cow disease, the United States annually exported $1.4 billion in beef to Japan and $519 million to South Korea, making them the first and third largest customers for U.S. beef.
Closing markets to U.S. beef largely “was a protectionist opportunity that was exercised around the world,” said Jay Truitt, NCBA vice president of government affairs. “They saw an opportunity for us to be locked out.”
He added that rather than using science to tackle the issue, their decision was made with politics in mind.
Currently, Japan permits entry of beef from U.S. cattle 20 months or younger. South Korea allows only imports of boneless U.S. beef from cattle younger than 30 months.
Last month, Seoul temporarily halted imports after finding banned spinal material in a shipment.
U.S. officials had hoped a recent decision by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), which gave the United States a “controlled risk” status for beef safety, would significantly increase beef exports, but so far there has been little change.
Reporting by Christopher Doering; Editing by Marguerita Choy