Staunch resistance to US beef in Japan, lingering safety concerns

TOKYO - New surveys showed staunch resistance in Japan to US beef despite a recent resumption of imports, with 80 percent of Japanese still concerned about its safety and only one food company planning to buy the American meat, reports said on Saturday.

By (AP)

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Published: Sat 12 Aug 2006, 10:01 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 2:11 PM

Sales of American beef resumed this week for the first time since January, after Tokyo announced on July 27 that it was easing its ban on imports of US beef over mad cow disease fears.

While the decision renewed US access to what was once the most lucrative export market for American ranchers, two separate surveys published Saturday suggest winning back market share will be difficult.

One study, conducted Aug. 5-6 by the Yomiuri newspaper, showed that 80 percent of Japanese were concerned, either greatly or to some extent, about the safety of US beef. Only about 19 percent of those polled said they had no worries.

Asked whether they planned to eat US beef, 88 percent of the respondents gave a negative response, with 45 percent saying they wouldn’t and 43 percent saying the decision required further consideration.

In another survey, conducted last month by the Consumers Union of Japan and Food Safety Citizens’ Watch, questionnaires were sent to major food industry companies such as supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

Of the 21 companies that replied, only beef bowl chain Yoshinoya D&C Co. said it would use US beef, the report said.

Seven companies - including McDonald’s Holdings Co. and Zensho Co., which also sells beef bowl dishes - said they had no plans to use US beef, while seven others indicated they won’t use US beef “for the time being,” Kyodo News reported.

Other respondents said they would decide after viewing “consumer trends and the quality and price of the beef.”

US beef went on sale in Japan on Wednesday for the first time since the lifting of a ban after Japanese inspectors cleared a 5.1-ton shipment of beef imported from US agricultural giant Cargill Inc.

Costco Japan, the Japanese unit of the American retailer, began selling the beef at three of its Tokyo-area stores. It was unclear whether Costco was included in the Kyodo poll.

The Yomiuri randomly surveyed 3,000 eligible voters nationwide and received responses from 1,741 people. It gave no margin of error. Kyodo did not provide polling details for its survey.

Japan initially banned American beef imports in December 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease in the United States. The ban was eased in December 2005, but reimposed in January after prohibited spinal bones were found in a veal shipment.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is a degenerative nerve disease in cattle. Eating contaminated meat products has been linked to the rare but fatal human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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