Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Japanese Mad Again About U.S. Cows: The stubborn refusal by American cattlemen to allow rigorous testing of U.S. beef has come back to bite the industry in the posterior once again, with the news that Japan has once again blocked imports from the States. The decision—just weeks after Japan and several other Asian countries lifted a ban that has been in place since the discovery of mad cow disease in the U.S. in December of 2001—came after the Japanese discovered an American company was shipping them beef containing the spinal columns of veal, believed to pose a risk of mad cow disease.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the premier trade organization for beef producers, has been steadfast in its opposition to the kind of safety tests that have become routine in Asia and Europe and almost every other beef producing country, and has even prevailed upon the USDA to threaten legal action against U.S. beef producers who seen to ensure the safety of their own supply.

Producers point out that there have been just three reported cases of mad cow in North America in recent years. Critics suggest the number is so low only because the U.S.—unlike other countries—tested only 175,000 of the 36 million cattle slaughtered in 2004.

If companies are allowed to conduct their own, more rigorous, tests “we think it would become the international standard and the domestic standard, too,” said NCBA president Jan Lyone at the time. “But it’s a standard that’s not based on science, would be very expensive and so is something our government definitely needs to resist.” Needless to say, there is no scientific reason not to test more cows: this is a commercial argument—or at best a value judgment—disguised as science.

The thing is, the refusal to meet international standards is costing beef producers money. Japanese imports in 2003 were worth $1.4 billion.

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