A delegation of Nebraska ranchers and farmers is heading to Japan on Sunday to promote beef exports to the Cornhusker State's second-largest trading partner.
Davenport, Neb., corn and beef producer Mark Jagels, incoming chairman of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said the delegation includes five people, himself included.
The group is scheduled to meet with Japan-based importers, retailers and food writers, with the aim of increasing demand for Nebraska beef. The trip comes after Japan agreed in January to permit imports of U.S. beef from animals aged 30 months and younger, up from an earlier restriction of 20 months and younger that was adopted after a 2003 mad-cow disease scare involving one case of the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in Washington involving a Canadian-born cow.
Jagels said beef from Australia and New Zealand gained some market share from U.S. producers in the disease-scare aftermath.
“The 30-month standard covers 95 percent of U.S. cattle production,” said Jagels, who becomes the federation chairman in November. “The goal now is to return U.S. beef imports to pre-2003 levels.”
On the agenda is a major tasting event with hundreds of guests, supermarket visits with free samples and interviews with food bloggers. Jagels said there is a large network of such writers in Japan, mostly women, who have a lot of clout when it comes to kitchen matters.
Tim Scheer, the Nebraska Corn Board chairman who is making the trip, said the delegation plans to emphasize the safety of U.S. beef.
“I eat it every day and serve it to my family,” said Scheer, saying the sentiment serves as his best testimonial to prospective buyers.
Still, Asian consumers have long memories about beef troubles. South Korea, once the No. 3 destination of for U.S. beef exports, was the scene of street protests that attracted 100,000 people just five years ago when import bans were lifted.
U.S. ranchers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say current monitoring, testing and culling procedures are effective and prevent diseased meat from entering the food supply.
Cattle can develop mad cow disease from eating infected feed. People who eat meat that has contacted infected cattle tissues can develop a variant of the fatal Creutzfeldt–Jakob brain disease.
Since the disease was first reported in 1996, 227 people worldwide, including three in the United States, have been diagnosed with the illness, according to 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.
When Japan allowed imports of beef only 20 months and younger, producers were required to show documentation of age, and processors and packers were required to keep a strict schedule. Because the Japanese standard was different from other importers, documenting and proving the identity of cattle throughout the system required extra time and effort along each step of the production chain.
Other Nebraskans on the trade trip include Dale Spencer, a beef producer from Brewster, and president of the Nebraska Cattlemen; Kyle Cantrell, a corn and beef producer from Anselmo; and Doug Parde, a corn and beef producer from Sterling.