Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Japanese chain set to serve US beef to customers again

BACK ON THE MENU The chain Yoshinoya will start offering US beef to its diners in the next couple of weeks, after an import ban was relaxed in July

AP , TOKYO

An animal quarantine officer checks a pack of US beef at a bond warehouse at the Narita International AIrport, suburban Tokyo, last month.

PHOTO: AFP

Major Japanese fast-food restaurant chain Yoshinoya will start serving US beef in the middle of this month, joining the trickle of eateries here to put US beef back on their menus since Tokyo eased an import ban in July, a company official said.

But a shortage of US beef imports meant the Tokyo-based Yoshinoya D&C Co can only offer its trademark beef bowl -- a serving of hot rice topped with slices of US beef -- for just one day on Sept. 18, according to the general manager of a Tokyo outlet who refused to be named, saying he was unauthorized to speak to media ahead of an official company announcement next week.

Yoshinoya, which has 1,010 outlets across Japan, will serve about a million servings that day, but a shortage of imports means it could be weeks before Yoshinoya can put the beef bowl back on its regular menu, he said.

US beef has been slowly making a comeback in Japan since the two countries resumed the beef trade in July, ending a two-and-a-half-year ban.

Earlier this week, barbecue restaurant chain Zenshoku Co in western Japan began serving US beef, becoming the first Japanese eatery to do so. On Friday, regional supermarket operator Nalx became the first retailer in the country to put US beef back on its store shelves.

But many Japanese remain worried about the safety of US beef, despite repeated assurances from US beef producers and officials over the safety of their products. In recent public polls, the majority of Japanese consumers said they're reluctant to buy US beef.

The only other retailer currently carrying US beef is Costco, run by the Japanese unit of US warehouse retailer Costco Wholesale Corp. The chain is selling US beef in five of its stores.

Major Japanese supermarket chains have taken a wait-and-see approach, with even Seiyu Ltd, the Japanese unit of US retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc, holding off on resuming US beef sales.

Tokyo banned US beef imports in December 2003 after the discovery of mad cow disease in a US herd. It eased the ban in December last year only to reinstate it a month later when prohibited spinal bones were found in a US veal shipment.

Japan lifted the blanket ban in July, but only allowed meat from calves under 21 months with brains, spines and other parts thought to be at risk, removed.

Mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, is a brain-degenerative disease in cattle. In humans, eating meat contaminated with BSE has been linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare but deadly nerve disease.

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